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Mexico's President Vicente Fox visits Twin Cities
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Mexico's Vicente Fox and his wife Martai at the Hospicio Cabanas in Guadalajara, Mexico before the opening session of the III Summit Latin America and Caribbean - European Union in May. (ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)
Mexican President Vicente Fox visits the Twin Cities Fiday as part of a three-state swing through the midwest. Fox will meet with Governor Tim Pawlenty and others on this first-ever visit by a Mexican head of state. He is expected to discuss trade relations between the state and Mexico, and advocate for greater protections for Mexican immigrants living here.

St. Paul, Minn. — Drumming up business for Mexico isn't the only reason President Fox is visiting Minnesota. He's here to strengthen connections with Mexico's most valuable export - its countrymen and women.

Minnesota is home to an estimated 95,000 Mexican immigrants.

During an interview with the Minnesota press in 2000 as part of former Gov. Ventura's trade mission to Mexico, Fox praised those who left their homeland to live and work in U.S.

"We're extremely proud of our Mexican paisanos in the United States. It's people with courage, it's people with talent, it's people with creativity, and it's people willing to contribute and support to the growth of the U.S. economy," President Fox said.

Fox was elected, in part, for his campaign promises to improve the lives of Mexican immigrants living and working in the U.S. Fox gave new life to the perennial discussion about guest worker programs and open borders between the two countries. Fox and President Bush began meeting regularly, and many viewed the relationship as promising.

But then came September 11th. President Bush turned away from Mexico and toward homeland security and tighter restrictions on immigrants.

Riordan Roett, who follows Mexican U.S. relations for the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, D.C., says Fox has been unsuccessful in achieving his highest foreign policy goals.

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Image Mexican-born Rafael Espinosa is a Twin Cities immigrant labor activist

"There has not been a great deal of progress on the critical issue which is either legalizing Mexican immigrants here or providing them with green cards or in some way, providing them some sort of stronger legal status. There are also a number of other issues, of course, including trade, investment, those kinds of things, but I think they're less important than immigration question is," Roett said.

The federal government's most recent numbers from 2002 show Minnesota has an undocumented population of about 60,000 people. However, the state demographer's office estimates the number is probably fewer than half. That's for all immigrant groups.

Mexican-born Rafael Espinosa works for a Twin Cities labor union and is an immigrant activist. He says Fox should not give up his efforts to secure more protections for undocumented immigrants.

"There is people that work for minimum wage with no benefits, with nothing, they work overtime without getting paid. It's ridiculous what's happening. Now, if people have documents, of course that wouldn't happen, but now people are afraid to say anything because their employer could deport them," Espinosa said.

Since Fox took office, his administration has been actively, some say aggressively, pushing U.S. municipalities and business to accept a form of documentation called the Matricula Consular, an identification card issued by Mexican consulates.

The Matricula allows Mexican nationals, who are here legally or illegally, to open bank accounts or get a driver's license. Critics call the Matricula the linchpin of Mexican migration policy -- a symbol of "backdoor amnesty" that circumvents American law.

Gov. Tim Pawlenty says Minnesota does not accept the Matricula as a legal form of identification. The state's position on the Matricula has been policy since 1998 when the department of Public Safety stopped accepting it as a valid form of identification for obtaining drivers' licenses.

"I think there have been concerns about accuracy, reliability, public safety, national security interests that haven't been fully addressed that makes officials on a national level and a state level concerned. I think we can all share the goal of having a reliable identification card, I just don't think there's consensus yet on whether the Matricula is the appropriate way to go," Pawlenty said.

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Image Ramona de Rosales is Executive Director of Academia Cesar Chavez

The Matricula is recognized by the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, and banks such as Wells Fargo and US Bank.

President Fox's only appearance open to the public will be at the Academia Cesar Chavez in St. Paul, a kindergarten through 7th grade charter school serving about 230 Latino students. The school was chosen for Fox's visit because of its close ties to families who are recent arrivals from Mexico. The school is known for integrating tradititional Latino culture, language, and values into its curriculum.

Hundreds of people are expected to show. School and St. Paul City officials are transforming the school's humble gymnasium into a space fit for a head of state. The downstairs cafeteria will seat extras, who can watch the event on closed-circuit television.

Cesar Chavez Executive Director Ramona De Rosales says one of the top issues for the Mexican community is locating a consulate in the Twin Cities.

"Right now, the consulate is in Chicago. And that's quite far. And sometimes when they do come, you see people lined up for days in order to be able to see him," Rosales says. "And he's only here for a certain time and that's it. And I think because of the growing number of Mexicans here, there is a real need to have a consulate here. So that's one thing that's really on the agenda."

Both mayors for Minneapolis and St. Paul are vying for the chance to host a new Mexican consulate.

For Minnesota's Mexicans, a consulate in either St. Paul or Minneapolis could well be one of the most tangible benefits to come from Fox's visit here.

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