Fox hires lobbyist to sweeten U.S. views on immigration

Los Angeles Times | December 28, 2005
By Sam Enriques

MEXICO CITY -- President Vicente Fox has rehired the Texas public relations man and GOP political consultant who quietly helped engineer his election victory in 2000. This time, Fox wants Rob Allyn & Co. to put the brakes on growing anti-immigration, anti-Mexican sentiment in the United States.

Last week, the U.S. House approved a bill to add 700 miles of border fencing and make illegal immigration a felony. Fox denounced the measure as shameful. His foreign minister called it stupid and underhanded.

''The contributions of Mexicans in the United States, who are making their best effort, generating lots of wealth, are not known,'' said Rodrigo Iván Cortés Jiménez, an elected deputy in Mexico's lower house and a member of its commission on foreign affairs.

The immigration bill, expected to reach the Senate in February, has no provision for allowing temporary Mexican workers -- a further slap, in Fox's view. He and President Bush agree on the need for a ''guest worker'' program.

Fox cannot seek reelection next year, and his legacy may rest in part on his pledges to secure an agreement with the United States to grant legal status to the millions of Mexicans living and working illegally north of the border.

So the Mexican leader last week turned to the political operative who helped him topple Mexico's longtime ruling party to win the presidency.

Rob Allyn helped George W. Bush defeat Ann Richards for the governorship of Texas in 1994. Three years later, Allyn saw another potential winner in Fox, then governor of Guanajuato state. He agreed to join Fox's presidential campaign, but only in secret.

For three years, Allyn worked clandestinely, helping craft Fox's message of change, as well as his TV commercials, his polling and his wardrobe. Allyn made dozens of trips to Mexico, traveling under one of three pseudonyms.

Fox, of the National Action Party, came from behind to defeat Francisco Labastida of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which had ruled Mexico for seven decades. During Mexico's official campaign season in the first six months of 2000, Allyn worked with Penn, Schoen & Berland, a polling and political consulting firm. They operated Democracy Watch, a nonpartisan group hired by Mexicans to conduct national exit polls as a hedge against election fraud.

After the July election, Allyn told the Dallas Morning News he hid his work for Fox because he didn't want to be a political liability. Mexicans are sensitive to foreign interference, especially involving the United States.

Allyn, who also worked on the Bush presidential campaigns, now faces a bigger challenge with the migration issue.

Demands to stem illegal immigration are growing louder in the United States as Mexican and Central American workers spread across the country.

''Our focus is on public opinion, which influences policy outcomes in Congress,'' said Allyn, 46, who grew up in Huntington Beach, Calif., and moved to Texas when he was in high school. ``There is a huge misperception among the U.S. public about Mexico.''

Mexican Foreign Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez said Allyn's message should be that Mexicans have sunk roots deep in their U.S. neighborhoods and that they contribute more through their work, taxes and families than they take away in public services.