WASHINGTON -- Vicente Fox, the former president of Mexico, said Saturday he is confounded by Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's decision during the GOP primary to align himself with hardliners on immigration, and questioned whether the candidate realized -- or even cared about -- the message it would send to Latino voters.
"He himself has immigrant [roots]. I don't understand -- why this position?" Fox said in a phone interview with The Huffington Post. "Maybe they have figured out that without the Hispanic vote they can make it. And let's say that is true. But what is going to be the capacity of the nation during the next four years if there is a divide?"
Fox served as president from 2000 to 2006 and now runs a presidential library, Centro Fox, that is set to host a series of upcoming events with other prominent figures -- including a debate between Fox and former U.S Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in December -- to discuss international cooperation.
He took pains to avoid making an endorsement or saying which of the two candidates he thought would better serve the country, and offered up considerable criticism of President Barack Obama along with his worries about Romney. Both, Fox said, seem to be more interested in fighting each other than showing how they would lead the country.
"If they keep spending their energies on trying to convince public opinion that the other guy is wrong, if they keep debating the negatives, I don't see leadership there," he said. "I cannot go for either one. But I think they can change."
On the Latino vote and immigration, though, Fox offered a strong critique of Romney for what he said were either unclear or disrespectful positions. Romney has a major problem with Latino voters, despite having increased the amount of targeted advertising and outreach directed at them over previous cycles. Some polls put Obama ahead of Romney by 50-point margins among Latino voters, and the GOP's failure to win over those voters could be a huge problem for the party going forward as they begin to make up a larger share of the population.
"I really think that Mitt Romney started on the wrong side [on immigration]," he said.
"He started creating a negative evaluation about what Latinos, Hispanics, Mexicans can bring to the United States," he said, referring to Romney's statements during the primary. "He has not changed completely his point of view."
Fox said he does not support open borders, but believes undocumented immigrants already in the United States should be given some way to stay, particularly if they have family, and the system should be reformed so companies have the labor force they need.
During the GOP primary, Romney advocated for "self-deportation", which involves making things difficult for undocumented immigrants until they decide to leave. The view is antithetical to Fox's philosophy that building up Mexico's economy could prevent some illegal border crossings in the first place. Romney has since backed away from "self-deportation," saying he merely meant immigrants have the option to leave of their own accord, but Fox said he is still unsure of Romney's exact position.
"I see him one day saying one thing and the other day saying another thing," he said. "I don't want to be so critical, but real leadership has to be shown."
Fox said he wasn't sure which presidential candidate would better deal with immigration, but acknowledged that his views on the issue more closely align with Obama's. He noted that Obama, like President George W. Bush before him, has failed to deliver on a promise to pass comprehensive immigration reform. Fox worked with Bush when they were both in office to come up with a plan, but Congress was never able to pass it, and hasn't done much to address immigration in the five years since. Harmful laws such as Arizona immigration law SB 1070, which he opposes, have cropped up because of those failures, Fox said.
"If the president of the United States does not take the bull by the horns, does not discuss and come to a solution, then states at the local level are changing their constitutions and locally are changing rules and laws like they did in Arizona in an erroneous way," he said.
Both candidates have disappointed him by failing to speak about Mexico. Fox said he believes the North American Free Trade Agreement needs to be strengthened, and he hasn't heard enough from either candidate on how they would deal with the arrangement in a way that would be beneficial to both nations.
"NAFTA for the moment is dormant," he said. "We usually see the United States focusing on things that are in the Middle East, things that are far away, and not such an interest in our own relationship, that we are neighbors, that we are partners, and we are friends."
He said he was also concerned about their failure to mention the drug war and discuss how they would work with Mexico to end killings along the border. Fox is a major critic of the war on drugs, and said he believes the United States should legalize drugs -- particularly marijuana -- to end some of that violence.
But the subject didn't come up during presidential debates, and neither candidate has devoted much -- or any -- time to discussing it.
"They did not speak about it and I am surprised because we are neighbors and they are hiding away from reality, both candidates, because the war is on," he said. "The killing is every day. The problems at the border are every day. The tons and tons of drugs crossing the border are every day."
The biggest issue for now, though, is getting past the election and addressing the task at hand, which should include strengthening the North American Free Trade Agreement, he said.
"The problem is not the election and who gets it, it's what is going to be the situation once you're elected," he said. "How are you going to get the energy of the nation to move ahead?"
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The Template: California Proposition 187 (1994)
California's Proposition 187 was submitted to the voters with the full support of then Republican governor Pete Wilson. It essentially blamed undocumented immigrants for the poor performance of the state economy in the early 1990s. The law called for cutting off benefits to undocumented immigrants: prohibiting their access to health care, public education, and other social services in California. It also required state authorities to report anyone who they suspected was undocumented. <strong>Status:</strong> The law passed with the support of 55 percent of the voters in 1994 but declared unconstitutional 1997. The law was killed in 1999 when a new governor, Democrat Gray Davis, refused to appeal a judicial decision that struck down most of the law. Even though short-lived, the legislation paved the way for harsher immigration laws to come. On the other hand, the strong reaction from the Hispanic community and immigration advocates propelled a drive for naturalization of legal residents and created as many as one million new voters.
The Worst: Arizona SB 1070
The Arizona Act made it a misdemeanor for an undocumented immigrant to be within the state lines of Arizona without legal documents allowing their presence in the U.S. This law has been widely criticized as xenophobic and for encouraging racial profiling. It requires state authorities to inquire about an individual's immigration status during an arrest when there is "reasonable suspicion" that the individual is undocumented. The law would allow police to detain anyone who they believe was in the country illegally. <strong>Status:</strong> The law was signed into law by Arizona Governor Jan Brewer on April 23, 2010. But it has generated a swirl of controversy and questions about its constitutionality. A federal judge issued a ruling that blocked what critics saw as some of the law's harshest provisions. House: 35-31 (4/12/2011)
Following Arizona's Footsteps: Georgia HB 87
The controversy over Arizona's immigration law was followed by heated debate over Georgia's own law. HB 87 required government agencies and private companies to check the immigration status of applicants. This law also limited some government benefits to people who could prove their legal status. <strong>Status:</strong> Although a federal judge temporarily blocked parts of the law considered too extreme, it went into effect on July 1st. 2011. House: 113-56 Senate: 39-17
Verifying Authorized Workers: Pennsylvania HB 1502
This bill, which was approved in 2010, bans contractors and subcontractors employ undocumented workers from having state construction contracts. The bill also protects employees who report construction sites that hire illegal workers. To ensure that contractors hire legal workers, the law requires employers to use the identification verification system E-verify, based on a compilation of legally issued Social Security numbers. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved on June 8th 2010. House: 188-6 (07/08/2010) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/donkeyhotey/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by DonkeyHotey</a>
A Spin Off of Arizona: Utah HB 497
Many states tried to emulate Arizona's SB 1070 law. However, most state legislatures voted against the proposals. Utah's legislature managed to approve an immigration law based on a different argument. Taking into consideration the criticism of racial profiling in Arizona, Utah required ID cards for "guest workers" and their families. In order to get such a card workers must pay a fee and have clean records. The fees go up to $2,500 for immigrants who entered the country illegally and $1,000 for immigrants who entered the country legally but were not complying with federal immigration law, <a href="http://articles.latimes.com/2011/mar/06/nation/la-na-illegal-immigration-20110306" target="_hplink">according to the LA Times.</a> <strong>Status: </strong> Law went into effect on 03/15/2011 House: 59-15 (03/04/2011) Senate: 22-5 (03/04/2011)
The Most Comprehensive: Florida HB-1C
Florida's immigration law prohibits any restrictions on the enforcement of federal immigration law. It makes it unlawful for undocumented immigrants within the state to apply for work or work as an independent contractor. It forbids employers from hiring immigrants if they are aware of their illegal status and requires work applicants to go through the E-verify system in order to check their Social Security number. <strong>Status: </strong>effective since October 1st, 2010
The Hot Seat: Alabama HB 56
The new immigration law in Alabama is considered the toughest in the land, even harder than Arizona's SB 1070. It prohibits law enforcement officers from releasing an arrested person before his or her immigration status is determined. It does not allow undocumented immigrants to receive any state benefit, and prohibits them from enrolling in public colleges, applying for work or soliciting work in a public space. The law also prohibits landlords from renting property to undocumented immigrants, and employers from hiring them. It requires residents to prove they are citizens before they become eligible to vote. The law asked every school in the state to submit an annual report with the number of presumed undocumented students, but this part, along with others, were suspended by federal courts. <strong>Status:</strong> Approved June 2nd, 2011 House: 73-28 (04/05/2011) Senate: 23-11 (05/05/2011) <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/longislandwins/" target="_hplink">Flickr photo by longislandwins</a>