- The Washington Times - Friday, March 5, 2004

CRAWFORD, Texas — Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived at the “Western White House” last night to press his case for looser immigration laws to a leader largely powerless to enact them this year.

President Bush continues to push his immigration reform plan that would allow at least 8 million illegal aliens currently working in the United States to keep their jobs and open the door for millions more to follow.

The proposal has the enthusiastic support of Mr. Fox, but Congress has shown little inclination to tackle the issue in an election year.

Such political realities have transformed Mr. Fox’s trip to the president’s ranch into more of a social visit, though the two men will use their time together to discuss strengthening cooperation in the war on terror, trade, and fighting corruption in many Latin American states.

“We are partners who have a shared commitment to meet the coming challenges in our hemisphere,” White House spokesman Scott McClellan said.

One of those challenges is securing the U.S. border from terrorists. A plan to photograph and fingerprint millions of visa-carrying Mexicans who cross the border had pleased many conservatives on Capitol Hill, but Undersecretary of Homeland Security Asa Hutchinson told Congress on Wednesday that the program — called US-VISIT — was likely to be downgraded or scrapped.

Mr. McClellan yesterday said the administration isn’t “scrapping any program,” but the US-VISIT program is “still in the discussion stages.”

Mr. Fox and many in Mexico have complained that Mexican visitors are fingerprinted and photographed for so-called “laser visa” cards, while those from Canada are not. Mr. Fox has let it be known that he opposes making the holders of those cards go through US-VISIT’s additional fingerprint-and-photograph process.

Mr. McClellan suggested that the current laser-visa program for Mexican nationals might not have to comply with the US-VISIT program, unveiled in October.

“When they get that [laser-visa] card, Mexican citizens have to undergo a biographical and biometric background check and have their finger scans in that card,” the spokesman said. “And so that could be an acceptable alternative to the U.S.-VISIT system for those Mexican citizens.”

The White House yesterday continued to defend political ads aired by the president’s re-election campaign that uses images from ground zero in New York after the September 11 terror attacks. Some relatives of those killed in the attacks have complained in national television interviews that the ads were exploitative.

Mr. McClellan said the administration “respectfully disagrees with” those who claim offense, and that the ads reflect Mr. Bush’s job performance at a “defining moment for our nation.”

“It’s important to talk about how we lead in this post-September 11th world, to make the world safer and make America more secure,” Mr. McClellan said. “And that is exactly what the president is doing.”

September 11 Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow, a strident antiwar organization, held a press conference to air its complaints.

Rita Lasar, who lost her brother in the attacks and spoke at the press conference, is a Democrat and former campaign worker for Bill Clinton. Her nephew, Matthew, who works for the liberal Pacifica radio network, gave a speech at an antiwar rally in San Francisco on Feb. 16, 2002, that equated the war in Iraq with the terrorist attacks of September 11.

“There is a word that describes the practice of bombing a city full of civilians in order to shock them into submission. That word is terrorism,” Mr. Lasar said, according to a text of the speech on the Web site for Peaceful Tomorrow. “We oppose such practices, whether directed by Osama bin Laden or George W. Bush.”

Asked if some of the complaints about the Bush campaign ads were politically motivated, Mr. McClellan said, “I can understand why some on the other side of the aisle may not want to talk about some of these issues,” referring to the war on terror.

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