- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 2, 2006

CRAWFORD, Texas — The president, meeting with other North American leaders in Cancun last week, promised to track illegal aliens crossing his country’s southern border, to return them to their home countries and to work for better security on the U.S.-Mexico border.

However, Mexican President Vicente Fox, not President Bush, made those commitments during two days of meetings with Mr. Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

“We are working in the inner part and in the southern part of the country to stop migration flows that come from Central America that are crossing illegally the southern border of Mexico,” Mr. Fox said, according to a translation of his remarks through an interpreter, citing the 240,000 illegal aliens Mexico has caught and sent back home.

Mr. Fox and his top ministers spent much of last week pledging to reduce border violence and illegal-alien smuggling and working to boost jobs so that fewer Mexicans feel the need to leave the country and look for work in the United States.

Mr. Bush, who is also calling for better border security and interior enforcement in the United States, welcomed Mr. Fox’s pledges. “Mexico understands it has responsibilities to meet, as well,” White House press secretary Scott McClellan said yesterday, “and the president appreciates the stepped-up efforts by President Fox and the Mexican government, particularly when it comes to going after smugglers and drug traffickers.”

Mr. Fox’s statements are an “important development” to the debate now in the Senate and, more broadly, among voters in the United States, Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican, said yesterday

“While Mexico didn’t want us to meddle in their internal affairs because, of course, they are a sovereign nation, I think the sense on this side of the border is they were, if not encouraging, they were complicit in the immigration of their people into the United States without the proper visas,” said Mr. Cornyn, chairman of the Senate Judiciary immigration, border security and citizenship subcommittee.

As one of the U.S. chairmen of the Mexico-United States Interparliamentary Group, Mr. Cornyn said he’s heard his Mexican counterparts lament towns devoid of young men and say privately they want those workers to return home, rather than remain in the United States permanently.

“It’s consistent with what they’ve told us privately, but I think they are seeing the benefit of saying it publicly, and I think it’s absolutely true,” he said.

Mr. Cornyn has sponsored a bill to create a temporary-worker program open for a total of six years to future foreign workers. The program would require these workers to return home at the end. His plan, cosponsored with Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, would give current illegal aliens five years to leave the country.

The chief alternative Senate bill, sponsored by Sens. John McCain, Arizona Republican, and Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, would allow workers to stay at the end of six years and take a path to citizenship. The proposal also would be open to current illegal aliens.

Both sides are fighting over which plan Mr. Bush would prefer.

Last week, Mr. Kennedy sent out a statement saying the president agreed with his version, citing Mr. Bush’s remarks Wednesday, when he said, if a guest worker “wants to become a citizen of the United States, because we’re a nation of laws, they get at the end of the line, not the beginning of the line.”

“I commend President Bush for backing the position that guest workers should be given the opportunity for earned citizenship,” Mr. Kennedy said.

Mr. Cornyn disputed that interpretation and said: “I think Senator Kennedy is engaging in some wishful thinking. What he is trying to do is wrap himself in the president’s language.”

Mr. McClellan said Mr. Bush’s position has not changed.

“The president has consistently said that anyone in the guest-worker program who wants to become a citizen would have to get in line just like everyone else,” he said. “They would not have an automatic path to citizenship. They would have to get at the back of the line and meet all the other obligations.”

Mr. Bush has also said if the number of green cards, an intermediate step to citizenship, is too low, then Congress should allow more cards.

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