SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- Mexican President Ernesto Zedillo arrived in California yesterday for a three-day trip focusing on trade, education and the trickiest topic of all -- immigration.
The last visit by a Mexican president to California was in 1993, just before state voters approved Proposition 187, which aimed to cut off public services to illegal immigrants.
Although trade between California and Mexico grew at record levels under Gov. Pete Wilson, his successor, Gray Davis, believes California lost a valuable opportunity to broadly influence trade and immigration policy because of Wilson's confrontational approach.
Davis has called Zedillo's visit "La mano de amistad," or "the hand of friendship."
"This is in the framework of what I call changing attitudes," said Carlos Tello, the Mexican consul general in San Francisco. "It's about taking advantage of these changing attitudes and making sure they permeate to all levels of government."
Tello said education and trade would be first on Zedillo's agenda, but human rights issues, namely how the estimated 4.5 million Mexican citizens who work and live in California are treated by the authorities here, would also be discussed.
"This concerns all sorts of issues, like proper wages, education, health, labor rights," Tello said, "which of course is related to the amount of money going from California to Mexico."
It is estimated that Mexicans living in California send as much as $7 billion a year back to their families. In terms of trade, California exported about $13 billion in electronics and computers to Mexico, state trade officials said.
Mexico would like to increase that amount through better ties with Silicon Valley. Although Zedillo canceled a trip to San Jose, citing scheduling difficulties, he will meet with high-technology leaders in San Francisco and with mayors from several dozen cities.
That could lead to an announcement about further investment in Mexico by Silicon Valley companies, and a greater push to increase the number of Mexicans receiving H-1B visas, which allow foreign workers to fill high-tech jobs in the United States.
On human rights, Zedillo and other Mexican officials would like Davis to explain his position on Proposition 187, which has faced court challenges since it was approved in 1994.
The Supreme Court has ruled that illegal immigrants have a right to public education, but several other legal issues remain.
Davis, to the dismay of Hispanics who supported him in the election, decided to continue the state's defense of Proposition 187 by turning it over to a mediator for review.
Coincidentally, Zedillo arrived in Sacramento on "Hungry for Justice -- Immigrant Lobby Day," an annual event attracting hundreds of immigrants and advocates to the state Capitol.