WASHINGTON (CN) – Former Mexican President Vicente Fox offered a biting critique of President Donald Trump at the National Press Club Thursday night, unloading on the administration’s first year while expressing skepticism over its newly proposed pathway to citizenship for an estimated 1.8 million illegal immigrants.
Fox is in the United States to promote his new book “Let’s Move On: Beyond Fear and False Prophets.” Along the way, he’s offered colorful warnings about Trump’s “art of the deal” and its ramifications on the geopolitical stage.
On Thursday, as Fox prepared for his appearance at a National Press Club symposium sponsored by the U.S. Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Trump was in Davos, Switzerland for the World Economic Forum, and the White House revealed its latest proposal for immigration reform, offering concessions like the path to citizenship in return for Democrats’ support for a $25 billion investment in border security measures, including the president’s wall between the U.S. and Mexico.
On the White House announcement, Fox told the Washington Post’s Mary Jordan, who moderated the event, that he viewed it with cautious optimism.
“It would be fortunate,” he said. “[There] are 1.8 million people … [who] want to stay here. This is where their friends are. This is where their families are. This is their country.”
On the other hand, Fox said, Trump has been known to take one position, then, sometimes within minutes, take a completely different one.
“First he said he would not consider [the Obama-era Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, also known as DACA], then he said he would .. of course, we wish we could have all 1.8 million in Mexico. That would be fantastic.
“Mexico could change incredibly with 1.8 million talents, graduates from universities,” Fox continued. “They can change the world, believe me. So, finally Señor Trump came back to reason. I’m glad for that … if it happens.”
Asked how he’d rate the Trump administration’s performance in its first year, Fox proved a tough grader.
“Poor, poor, poor, poor,” he said.
“This obsession with him to comply and commit with what he promised [while] campaigning, I think that’s absolutely wrong,” Fox said. “After campaigning, you should listen. You should make your own plan for government. You should get a team and [have them] tell you about how to do it. But [his] campaigning ability was about balls.”
Fox also acknowledged that like Trump, he too ran on a populist platform before becoming president.
“In a way, I was like him,” he said.
But Fox said that single-mindedness changed quickly once he was in office.
“I had to listen,” he said. “I had to listen to people. See really what they wanted. Then you start changing your plans.
“Today, keeping that obsession that he has to comply with promises he made is absolutely wrong and he’s finding out. He’s finding out with DACA,” Fox said. “He was campaigning on ‘no more migrants …’ He should have flexibility. This idea of him being the greatest dealer? He makes deals and he always wins? That’s wrong. You make deals to let your opponent have what he wants and so that you get what you want. But both sides win.”
Fox has been a frequent, outspoken critic of President Trump’s proposed border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and has dismissed the president’s continued assertions that “Mexico is going to pay for it.”
But on Thursday night, Fox struck an ironically conciliatory tone.
“Let it be. If this is what the U.S. wants. To take out $25 billion for a useless wall. We Mexicans don’t care,” he said to laughter.
Fox said history has proven that walls like the one Trump wants to build are not effective.
“The Chinese built a wall, spending decades [defending themselves] against their enemies,” he said, and the Mongolian army eventually overcame it.
Other determined interlopers, like drug kingpins south of the U.S. border, have already shown a proclivity for tunneling their way into the states, he said.
Even the Berlin Wall eventually fell, “and that cost a lot of money too,” Fox said.
Diving more deeply into the issue of immigration, Fox conceded that nations don’t just have a right to administer the flow of migration across their borders, but an obligation to do so.
But at same time, he said, the United States has to acknowledge the role that a demand for low-cost workers by U.S. employers played in the current situation.
“All these Mexicans came because somebody gave them a job,” he said. “The demand of jobs was here and so they came, and they were received and protected. … Now you don’t want them and you kick them out again.”
Fox said on the immigration issue, Trump has forgotten — or simply doesn’t know — the history.
“Let’s remember what happened right after World War II,” Fox said. “This nation sent its men to war. And fortunately there were women with courage here to take the responsibility. They went to the factories because jobs had to be done. But it was not enough.
“What was the answer? Bring in 2 million Mexicans,” Fox continued. “And they were invited. The U.S. said we need 2 million Mexicans – braceros — and you brought them here and they work hard … and when the war was over, [it was]: ‘OK, you fucking Mexicans – go back!”
Braceros were Mexican men participating in the Bracero Program, a 1942 bilateral agreement between the U.S. and Mexico permitting millions of Mexican men to work in the U.S. on short-term labor contracts.
Almost all of these contracts involved agricultural work. The program ended in 1951.
Fox ended his comments by declaring that Mexico is no longer the “little guy in the backyard,” easily bullied by the U.S. or specifically, President Trump.
Afterwards Fox told Courthouse News that while “Trump was authoritarian in business,” governing on the world stage requires a different approach.
“It is the first lesson he has yet learned,” he said. “[But] the world will domesticate him.”