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Local Hispanic community inspired by talks between leaders of U.S., Mexico

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Posted: Tuesday, September 4, 2001 10:00 pm

Mexican President Vicente Fox's visit with President Bush this week should improve conditions for Mexican citizens and improve the economy in the United States as well as Mexico, according to local reaction in the Hispanic community.

"I'm all in favor of the discussions they are having. They are positive," said Sam Fabila, pastor of Salem United Methodist Church in Lodi. "For a long time, people have come illegally (into the United States). If they were given amnesty, they would be a productive legal alien."

Fox arrived in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday for the first official visit to Bush by a foreign leader. Fox is scheduled to address a joint session of Congress on Thursday.

"President Fox understands English," said Carlos Morales, a translator for the Galt Community Concilio who also runs the concilio's Walnut Grove office. "He's more in touch with the U.S. than any other president of Mexico."

Improved relations between the two leaders may someday result in greater cooperation in dealing with undocumented Mexican citizens who cross the border into the United States, said Pedro Ramos, who owns a Galt jewelry store and is president of the Galt Rotary Club.

"The U.S. benefits from all the labor; they're good workers," Ramos said.

Angelica Castillo talked Tuesday about how her 70-year-old father, Marciano Castillo, hopes the two presidents could arrange for undocumented Mexicans to get border permits and work in the United States as long as they don't have a criminal record.

"They're only looking to make money to take back home to their families in Mexico," Angelica Castillo said on behalf of her father, who owns La Campana Tortilla Factory on South Central Avenue in Lodi. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday afternoon.

Ranchers are always scrambling to get enough farm workers, said Angelica Castillo. Being allowed to hire undocumented workers would increase the chances that crops will be harvested in time, she added.

Born in Mexico, Marciano Castillo crossed the border into Texas at the age of 13 with no immigration papers, his daughter said. He intended to work hard for his family and return to Mexico, but he ended up staying and becoming an American citizen, said Angelica Castillo.

"He never asked welfare for a penny" despite raising five children, she said.

Marciano Castillo worked the fields his entire life until he opened a store in 1979 in Lodi, his daughter said. In 1988, he opened La Campana Tortilla Factory.

Ramos, the Galt jeweler, said he hopes that Bush and Fox will negotiate an agreement where undocumented Mexicans can work legally in the United States for six months, then return to Mexico. After the six-month period, Mexicans from a different part of the country could enter the United States, Ramos said.

"I'd like to get them a contract for six months rather than have them jump the fence (at the border)," said Ramos, who was born and raised in Mexico.

The six-month contract would allow undocumented Mexicans to learn better job skills and use those skills when they return to Mexico, Ramos said. With some American companies moving to Mexico, Mexican workers with the improved skills could be hired, Ramos said.

Not only would the United States receive capable Mexican workers, even if they are undocumented, but Mexican workers would pay income and contribute to the American Social Security system, said Fabila, the Lodi minister.

That could lead to Mexicans becoming legal American citizens, which would allow them to get jobs with medical benefits, Fabila said.

Health care is near and dear to Monica Martinez's heart, and she hopes that Bush and Fox could bridge the gap. She sees many Hispanic students at Fairsite Elementary School in Galt who desperately need medical care.

"It seems like (Bush) is the first president who seems to have taken an interest in Mexico," said Martinez, a counselor at Fairsite.

She hopes Bush is interested enough to allow undocumented residents to receive adequate medical care. Martinez cited children with severe toothaches who haven't been treated, especially since Galt doesn't have a dentist who will accept Medi-Cal patients.

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