L.A. mayor warns of Guard ‘chilling’ Mexican tourism
LOS ANGELES (AP) – Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa warned Thursday that federal plans to use more troops and barriers to tighten security on the nation’s southern border could hurt the city’s attempts to increase trade and tourism with Mexico.
“There’s no question that putting up a wall, assigning the National Guard, could have a chilling effect on tourism, the relationship between the two countries, economic ties,” the mayor told reporters on the eve of his meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox.
“Our economies are much more intertwined than most people really understand,” the mayor said. “The benefits to both countries are great.”
Villaraigosa’s concern with potential economic fallout came on the day the Senate authorized 370 miles of new, triple-layered fencing and 500 miles of vehicle barriers along the U.S.-Mexico border as part of a sweeping immigration bill. The vote opens the way for negotiations with the House.
President Bush, meanwhile, has announced plans to dispatch up to 6,000 National Guard members to states bordering Mexico to support the Border Patrol and help stem the flow of illegal immigrants.
The mayor stressed the importance of the region’s economic ties with its southern neighbor. He said he intended to discuss trade and tourism with Fox on Friday and avoid the contentious immigration debate, which is a federal issue.
At the same time, he acknowledged a federal border crackdown involving thousands of uniformed troops and new barriers could hinder, rather than help, his attempts to expand business with the city’s southern trading partner.
Mexico sends more tourists to Los Angeles than any other country – an estimated 1.5 million in 2005. Trade between Mexico and the Los Angeles region totaled $25 billion last year, which supported an estimated 42,000 jobs in Los Angeles County, the mayor said.
“We gain more by embracing the world, rather than turning our backs on it,” the mayor said. “By working toward the mutual benefits of increased trade and foreign investment, we’ve taken steps beyond enforcing laws and building walls to address the flow of immigrants.”
Improved business ties, he said, “will ultimately work to reduce the underlying economic factors that push people away from Mexico and toward the United States.”
As mayor of an ethnically diverse city – and the son of a Mexican immigrant – Villaraigosa has spoken sympathetically of those “who clean hotel rooms, who sweep the floors, who watch our children.” At the same time, he has also called for secure borders and the enforcement of immigration law.
As he has in the past, he urged Congress to forge a compromise that “holds people accountable for breaking the law, but also provides a pathway for citizenship for the 12 million people who are currently living and working here.”
Fox has faced criticism for a U.S. visit that overlapped with the congressional debate. But the mayor said the timing was not inappropriate.
“Any time that two neighbors can come and visit and have discussions, that’s a good thing,” he said.
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