In Mexico to promote trade, President Obama said Thursday that security along the U.S.-Mexican border has improved and that a pending immigration reform bill in Congress would ensure the countries' economic growth doesn't get "bogged down" in border problems.
"Our shared border is more secure than it's been in years," Mr. Obama said at a joint news conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. "Illegal immigration attempts into the United States are near their lowest level in decades."
Asked whether he was concerned that demands by Republican lawmakers for greater border security could jeopardize the immigration bill, Mr. Obama suggested that demands for certain security "triggers" might be a tactic for undermining the legislation.
"What I'm not going to do is to go along with something where we're looking for an excuse not to do it, as opposed to a way to do it," Mr. Obama said. "And I think we can ... if all sides operate [in good] faith, that can be accomplished."
The president said the U.S. has put "enormous resources" into border security, adding that there benefits beyond "simply securing the United States from illegal traffic."
"Some of it is also improving the infrastructure which we talked about for commerce to be able to come in smoothly, which creates jobs and, you know, helps our businesses, both in the United States and in Mexico," he said.
While the president is correct that illegal border crossings from Mexico are lower than their peak in 2005, the U.S. Border Patrol said there was a 9 percent increase in 2012 from the previous year. The Border Patrol made 356,873 arrests along the U.S.-Mexico border in fiscal year 2012, up from 327,577 in 2011.
Apprehensions peaked in 2005 at 1.2 million and had been steadily dropping every year since as first President George W. Bush and then Mr. Obama committed more manpower and resources to the border. The slower flow of illegal immigrants into the U.S. also is due in part to Mexico's improving economy, which has grown at double the rate of the U.S. economy since 2009.
Mr. Obama arrived in Mexico on Thursday for a two-day visit and to get better acquainted with Mr. Pena Nieto, who was elected in December. The new Mexican president has been emphasizing his desire to focus less on border security issues and to spend more time fostering stronger trade between the two nations.
"We don't want to make this relationship targeted on one single issue," Mr. Pena Nieto said.
Mr. Obama has embraced that concept.
"Too often, two issues get attention: security or immigration," Mr. Obama said at the Palacio Nacional with his host. "We can't lose sight of the larger relationship between our peoples, including the promise of Mexico's economic progress."
Both leaders said they've agreed to set up high-level talks, beginning in the fall, to promote trade and other economic cooperation. Vice President Joseph R. Biden will take part in those negotiations, they said.
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