Rick Perry snipes at ugly Americans while campaigning in Mexico
By DUDLEY ALTHAUS
Houston Chronicle Mexico City Bureau
MEXICO CITY — Leading a large delegation of Texas executives trying to drum up business in Mexico, Gov. Rick Perry on Tuesday criticized the U.S. Congress for failing to pass an immigration bill that would legalize millions of workers.
"I don't think this is that difficult an issue if Congress would have the maturity to sit down and really discuss it and cut out all the mean rhetoric," Perry said during a break in the third day of meetings with Mexican officials and business executives.
"We need those individuals to continue to grow our economy," he said of Texas' undocumented workers, most of whom hail from Mexico. "The vast, vast majority of those individuals want to come and work and take care of their families."
Perry made the remarks in Mexico City, where immigration is nearly as big a hot-button issue as it is in Washington. He spoke at a press conference shortly before meeting with President Felipe Calderon who, like past Mexican presidents, has lobbied for changes in U.S.immigration law that would include a guest-worker program.
Perry's statements seemed to put him at odds with many in the Republican Party's base who regarded the immigration overhaul bill that collapsed in the Senate in June as nothing more than an amnesty for illegal immigrants.
Perry said he supports a system that would temporarily legalize foreign workers, while making sure they pay taxes and obey the law.
Such a system, Perry said, would allow for a "free flow of individuals between these countries who want to work, who want to be an asset to our country and to Mexico."
Echoing a growing number of other Republican politicians, Perry attributed the "mean" tone of the immigration debate to the media.
"There have always been — whether you were African-American, or Hispanic, or for that matter some other ethnic group —people who are mean and will make mean statements. That's nothing new in the world we live in."
Perry tried to distinguish between overhauling the nation's immigration laws and enforcing security on the state's border with Mexico.
Earlier this year, he signed into law a $100 million spending bill designed to enhance border security. And last year he launched an effort to place cameras at remote border crossings. That effort has not succeeded.
"Border security and immigration are two different things," Perry said Tuesday. "We know how to deal with border security. You don't deal with it by building a fence, You do it by putting boots on the ground ... using the technology available ... and by coordinating with state, local and federal officials."
Perry and other state officials brought to Mexico City about 150 Texas business executives — including many from Houston — who were looking for new deals south of the Rio Grande in energy and other industries.
"It's a little early, frankly, to say we have any contracts signed," Perry said.
For years, Texas companies have provided drilling, pipeline installation and other services for Mexico's petroleum and electricity industries, which are controlled by government monopolies.
Though Mexico's Congress is debating energy reforms, the sort of sweeping privatization favored by many foreign investors is unlikely.
Given those limitations, Texas executives on this trip focused on the possibilities for developing wind power and other alternative energy sources in Mexico, Perry said.
"We will work within any of the parameters we are given," he said.
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