MEXICO JACKSON BLACKS
Adrian Burrows  /  AP
Rev. Jesse Jackson holds a photo of himself Cesar Chavez as he stands with Mexican President Vicente Fox, and Ann Marie Tallman; president of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund.
updated 5/18/2005 4:20:26 PM ET 2005-05-18T20:20:26

President Vicente Fox tried to smooth relations with the U.S. black community Wednesday after saying Mexican immigrants take jobs that "not even" blacks want, promising to work with the Rev. Jesse Jackson to improve labor rights for minorities in the United States.

The meeting between Fox and Jackson at the presidential residence was a sharp contrast from a few days ago, when Jackson called on the Mexican president to issue a public apology. Some 25 million people of Mexican heritage live in the United States.

'Process of mutual support'
Fox met with Jackson for more than an hour, but didn't participate in a news conference following the talks because he had to leave for a trip to northern Mexico. Fox has made no public reference to his comment Friday, instead issuing often inconsistent statements through his aides.

Jackson told reporters Fox was scheduled to appear on the U.S. civil rights leader's radio program Sunday. Fox was also invited to several U.S. labor forums, although it wasn't clear if he planned to attend.

Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez, who appeared at the news conference on behalf of Fox, said the meeting was an opportunity for Mexico to pursue better treatment for Mexican and other Latino migrants in the United States.

"This relationship, which today became closer for the Mexican government, is one more avenue, one more process of mutual support in the search for a common objective that is integrated, complete migratory reform," Derbez said.

Jackson said Fox's comment Friday was "at best, insensitive," but that the Mexican president had expressed regret for any offense he had caused.

"He now realizes the harmful effects of it," Jackson said. "He seeks to correct it by reaching out."

Jackson said the statement, which angered the U.S. black community, was a chance for minority groups in the United States to begin working together to fight for better treatment and wages.

"It was offensive and inaccurate, but it was a diversion from the bigger struggle of workers rights," Jackson said.

Victims of U.S. policies
He said Mexicans and blacks in the United States were the victims of U.S. policies that pit illegal workers against disenfranchised minority groups.

"The Mexican-Americans must not be pawns in that scheme, and African Americans must not be scapegoats in that scheme," he said. "We must work together, fighting for the right to vote, and for health care and wages."

The controversy came as Mexico fumed over new U.S. immigration policies, including tightened requirements for driver's licenses and the extension of a wall along the California-Mexico border.

The U.S. government initially criticized Fox's statement, with State Department spokesman Richard Boucher saying Monday it was "very insensitive and inappropriate."

The next day, White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Fox "made a public statement regretting his comments, and I think he's addressed the matter."

Jackson criticized President Bush and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for not personally responding to Fox's comment.

"I would expect some official expression from our government," he said.

There was still confusion Wednesday on whether Fox had formally apologized for his remarks.

Fox told Jackson and civil rights leader Al Sharpton on Monday that he was sorry for "any hurt feelings caused by my statements," according to Mexico's Foreign Relations Department.

Late Tuesday, Assistant Foreign Secretary Patricia Olamendi echoed that sentiment, saying: "If anyone felt offended by the statement, I offer apologies on behalf of my government."

But early Wednesday, Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar said Olamendi was speaking on behalf of herself _ not the government. Aguilar has insisted Fox's comments were misinterpreted.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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