- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 6, 2001

Mexican President Vicente Fox pressed his case for swift immigration overhaul to Congress today. But President Bush called proposals to grant legal status to Mexicans now in the country illegally “an incredibly complex issue.''

Mr. Bush suggested it was unlikely that Congress would be able to come up with a plan within a year but said he fully understands Mr. Fox's desire to expedite the process.

“We have heard his call,'' said Mr. Bush, flanked by Mr. Fox at a joint news conference.

On Wednesday, Mr. Fox, in a surprise move, had urged that the two governments reach an agreement by year's end, but Congress, which has the final say, is deeply divided on the issue.

In their joint statement, the two leaders said they plan to form a public-private “Partnership for Prosperity,'' that would seek ways to spur economic growth in Mexico as a means of reducing migration. The alliance would submit an action plan to the two leaders by March 1, 2002.

At his news conference, Mr. Bush said that a major obstacle was devising a system that would allow many of the up to 3 million Mexicans now in the United States illegally to gain legal status without penalizing those who have already applied for such status though existing channels.

Earlier, Mr. Fox addressed a packed joint session of the House and Senate, urging greater trust between the neighboring countries as the basis for “a new partnership in North America.''

“Trust will be essential to achieve our goals,'' he said.

The charismatic former Coca-Cola executive, on the second day of a state visit, supports a legalization package for Mexicans now in the United States.

Mr. Bush agrees that the present situation is deeply flawed. “There are many in this country who are undocumented. We want to make sure that their labor is legal,'' Mr. Bush said. But, he asked, “How do we match a willing employer with a willing employee?''

Mr. Bush said that his administration and Congress needed to “think creatively'' on expanding the current U.S. guest worker program so more Mexicans could obtain “green cards'' designating legal standing.

“We're trying to work though a formula that will not penalize the person who has chosen the legal route and at the same time recognize the contribution the undocumented (worker) has made,'' he added.

“This is an incredibly complex issue. … To make matters even more complicated, we have to work with Congress,'' Mr. Bush said.

Mr. Bush also urged Congress to deliver on two requests of the Mexican president: lifting restrictions on Mexican trucks on U.S. highways and suspending a program requiring Mexico to get annual certification that it has cooperated in the war against drugs.

He repeated a veto threat against legislation to extend the ban on Mexican trucks.

Mr. Fox spoke mostly in English but delivered portions of his speech in Spanish. When he spoke in Spanish, a translator in the House chamber followed with the English version for the lawmakers.

The Mexican president addressed head-on critics who see undocumented aliens as lawbreakers and do not deserve to remain on U.S. soil.

Legalization “does not mean rewarding those who break the law,'' Mr. Fox said. “It means that we will provide them with the legal means to allow them to continue contributing to this great nation.''

He renewed his appeal for higher ceilings for U.S. visas for Mexicans and for an expanded program of temporary work visas so that Mexicans can enter the country safely.

And, in remarks aimed at the Mexicans in the United States, Mr. Fox said: “Mexico needs you. We need your talent and entrepreneurship. We need you to come home one day and play a part in building a strong Mexico''

He said he recognized that many on both side of the 2,000-mile-long border view closer ties as risky and perhaps unwise.

But he said he didn't believe the old adage that “good fences make good neighbors.''

Turning to the war on drugs, Mr. Fox said that “cooperation is not a nicety. It is a necessity.''

His speech lasted about 30 minutes. In his address, Mr. Fox used the word “trust'' at least 25 times.

“Simple trust that is what has been sorely absent in our relationship in the past,'' he said.

Fox's speech was interrupted at least 11 times by applause. From the podium of the House of Representatives, Fox addressed a packed gathering of House and Senate members, the president's Cabinet and a delegation of diplomats.

Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., praised Mr. Fox's remarks. “For him to say, we are changing, this is an opportunity, trust us, I'm willing to do that.

“I think President Fox did a magnificent job. A boffo performance. Viva Fox,'' Mr. Lott said.

Sen. Jesse Helms, the top Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said Mr. Fox's speech “was not only well prepared, you could tell he meant it. I think he's a great leader.''

Sen. Joseph Lieberman, D-Conn., said, “The bottom line is the fences are going to go down between these two countries, and it's in the interests of both countries and both peoples that we make it work.''

After the news conference, the Mexican president joined Bush on a trip to Toledo, Ohio, a Democratic and union stronghold with a large and growing Hispanic population.

The two presidents were scheduled to visit with children at a Hispanic community center in Toledo, speak at a university and release a joint communique outlining their immigration goals.

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