Former president of Mexico Vicente Fox praised NAFTA on Monday and decried President Donald Trump’s immigration policies, saying they could prompt the re-emergence of the “ugly American that was hated so much in the past.”
“NAFTA has been very successful,” Fox told reporters during a news briefing prior to his speech at Wayne State University.
“At the beginning of NAFTA, the gap between the income you’d make on the Mexican side and the income you’d make by crossing the border ... (was) 10 times as much,” he said. “Today, that gap is 5 to one, so it’s narrowed significantly.”
Fox was the keynote speaker at the kickoff event Monday for the Forum on Contemporary Issues in Society’s 10th anniversary lecture series, “What in the World is Going On?” The theme was “Immigration: The Wall, Trade, Jobs and Deportation.”
During Monday’s news briefing, Fox said Trump has been “disruptive.”
“What is the path this great nation is going to take after this disruptor took over? I would not lie when I say that we’re highly worried. Everywhere in the world we ask ourselves ... why the leader nation of the world is building walls, isolating himself?
“The message is out there: that this nation might take the opinion of isolation ... of building walls” Fox said. “Every action has a reaction. What we see up to now is uncertainly; a remote possibility that the … ugly American that was hated so much in the past in almost every nation could be back.
“We don’t want Uncle Sam with a stick. We want Uncle Sam and this nation to be compassionate, to be friendly, to partner with the rest of the world, to build a real path to progress, to security and to success.”
Fox has long criticized U.S. immigration policy, and said the United States was founded as an open society that welcomed immigrants who helped build the country. Issues concerning Mexico and immigration remain hot-button topics on both sides of the border. Trump’s promise to build a wall to stop illegal immigration was a cornerstone of his presidential campaign and he said Mexico would finance it.
This month, the Trump administration announced it would end the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA, which protects immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.
Fox spoke without notes for more than an hour during his speech before a packed house at WSU’s Community Arts Auditorium.
Fox said the wall at the U.S.-Mexican border was akin to the Berlin Wall in Germany and the Great Wall of China.
“That wall failed ... because it was against a value, which is freedom,” Fox said of the Berlin Wall.
“I’m not for open borders. Every country has a right to establish its rules; to build its walls if you want to. But you don’t ask your neighbor to pay for it,” Fox said, prompting sustained applause.
“There’s a limit to the people you can accept in your nation,” Fox said. “That’s true in Europe, and it’s true here. So what do we do with the 11 million undocumented people in America?
“The answer ... let’s prepare a list of who these 11 million are, and then find out if they have a job … are they working for Walmart or the construction industry? Let them stay as long as they have that job … if they don’t, then they go back to Mexico.”
Fox said American taxpayers would be on the hook for $35 billion to build the wall. “Do you know what you can do with $35 billion? You could get rid of poverty for two years.
“You cannot sit in front of the TV and drink your beer and … Trump will bring back your job,” Fox said. “It’s not the president who’s going to solve your problems.
“Take the example of drugs. Do we really thing government is going to eradicate drugs from the face of the earth? We cannot renounce our obligation as parents; as fathers and mothers. We must let them know it’s very harmful if you take drugs.
“Mexico is blamed for the problems (with drugs),” Fox said. “Some might think Mexicans are drinking too much tequila; they’re killing each other. But we’re trying to refrain the drugs from coming into this nation ... so in a way we’re working for you, for this nation.”
Fox said drugs should be legalized in the U.S. “Legalize it so we can (eradicate) this black market that goes directly into the hands of the cartel,” he said.
Fox concluded his speech by saying: “We need compassionate leaders. We need love. We need understanding. We need a little space for us, and we need a little space for others.”
Fox then answered questions from the audience, including one from a woman who asked in Spanish if he had any message for DACA students in the audience.
“What I would say to DACA students who are here is, don’t over-worry yourselves,” he said. “A solution and reason will prevail. I’m sure of that. It cannot happen.”
In the past Fox has promoted a North American Union similar to the European Union’s, with a single currency. Fox has also argued that Americans helped create economic policies such as NAFTA that moved jobs to Mexico.
When Trump was on the campaign trail and promoting building a wall on the border with Mexico, Fox used profanity when talking about the proposal.
Trump said Fox “should be ashamed of himself and he should apologize.”
When Trump later met with the country’s current president, Enrique Pena Nieto, Fox told CNN the then-presidential candidate was unwelcome in Mexico and: “We don’t like him. We don’t want him. We reject his visit.”
Fox’s speech came as Trump was to host a dinner for Latin American leaders in New York, ahead of his debut address before the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.
FOCIS was launched at Wayne State University in 2007 to focus on topics relevant to the campus community.
In 2008, Fox was the lecture series’ third guest speaker, and the first former head of state, school officials said.
Mexico is the United States’ third-largest trading partner for goods, and the two countries did some $583.6 billion in total cross-border commerce in 2015, according to the Office of the United States Trade Representative. That included a U.S. goods and services trade deficit of $49.2 billion. America buys about 80 percent of Mexico’s exports, with automobiles, electrical machinery and fuels topping a long list that also includes agricultural goods such as fruit, vegetables, wine and beer.
The Trump administration’s proposal this year for a 20 percent tax on imports from Mexico to pay for the promised border wall was quickly walked back by officials as just one of multiple “options.”
The Associated Press contributed.