- The Washington Times - Friday, March 31, 2006

CANCUN, Mexico — Mexican President Vicente Fox yesterday promised President Bush that his country will do more to control the U.S.-Mexico border and will strengthen its own southern border to reduce the number of aliens crossing into Mexico to reach the United States.

“It is a shared, shared responsibility,” Mr. Fox said at the end of a meeting with Mr. Bush at this Mexican resort town.

The two leaders, along with new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, have gathered to talk about security and economic cooperation, and Mr. Bush thanked Mr. Fox for “such a strong statement.”

“The president understands and I understand we have an obligation to secure our borders,” Mr. Bush said.

The emphasis on border security reflects the political climate in the United States on immigration, where the only point that nearly all voters agree on is that the borders leak and the U.S. government has failed to control them.

For his part, Mr. Bush assured Mr. Fox that he remains committed to pushing Congress to produce an immigration bill that includes a guest-worker program for current illegal aliens and future foreign workers.

“I’m optimistic we can get a bill done,” he said.

Mr. Bush is trying to sell his guest-worker plan to skeptical Republicans, particularly in the House, who say the government must prove that it can enforce the borders before talking about a new foreign-worker program.

Mr. Bush also told Mr. Fox that he doesn’t favor letting illegal aliens jump to the front of the line to get citizenship. He said if the current line is too long, Congress should increase the number of green cards issued each year.

An estimated 6 million Mexicans now live illegally in the United States, making up more than half the illegal-alien population, and are the biggest segment of new illegal entries every year, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Mr. Fox said he wants to create more opportunities in Mexico so that Mexicans stay in the country, echoing his foreign minister’s comment Tuesday that officials want to make sure future foreign workers return to Mexico, rather than stay in the United States.

“Mexico should assume its responsibility and take concrete actions to develop a series of programs in health, employment and housing in Mexico in order to guarantee that temporary workers return to the country,” Minister Luis Ernesto Derbez was reported as saying.

“Mexican politicians have an obligation to create conditions so that we no longer have to export labor,” Mr. Derbez said.

But just this week Mr. Fox told a Canadian newspaper that he wants Canada to expand its guest-worker program to allow for more Mexican workers.

After spending all of 2004 and most last year mainly calling for a guest-worker program, Mr. Bush late last year coupled that with a call for better border security. But Mr. Bush has yet to offer a comprehensive proposal in the way that he offered a guest-worker plan in January 2004.

Mr. Bush said Mr. Fox shared with him Mexico’s strategies for how to control the border, though neither man said what they were and it is too early to know what sort of changes Mexico will make or what kinds of resources it will bring to the border.

Mr. Fox, through an interpreter, did say that Mexican authorities have stopped more than 120 alien smugglers in their recent efforts to gain control of the border.

A week after asking that Mexico play a role in shaping the United States’ immigration policy, Mr. Fox also said that issue is out of his hands.

“The matter is in the Congress of the United States, and that is where the decision will be made,” Mr. Fox said hours before meeting Mr. Bush for bilateral talks in Cancun. “It is no longer between President Bush and President Fox.”

That represents an about-face after the Mexican government paid for advertisements to run in major U.S. and Mexico City newspapers last week that said if there is a guest-worker program, Mexico “should participate in its design, management, supervision and evaluation.”

Early in the day, the three leaders visited the archaeological site of Chichen Itza, a Mayan and Toltec city near Cancun, which some scholars say was the scene of human sacrifices.

All three men were dressed casually, with Mr. Bush even walking the site with his white short-sleeved shirt untucked.

The two days of meetings are being conducted under tight security, and even when the leaders got to the pyramid that stands roughly in the center of the complex, they looked up to see their security forces perched at the top with weapons and binoculars.

Though Mr. Bush already had met Mr. Harper, when he was opposition leader in the Canadian Parliament, yesterday was their first meeting since Mr. Harper became prime minister after January’s elections. Mr. Harper rode in Mr. Bush’s motorcade and flew with him on Marine One to Chichen Itza, and then they met for bilateral talks in the afternoon.

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