- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 9, 2006

President Bush gave Mexican President-elect Felipe Calderon an assurance in the Oval Office yesterday that he will push for a broad immigration bill that includes a new guest-worker program and citizenship rights for many illegal aliens.

“I assured the president-elect that the words I said in the very Oval Office that we sit about a comprehensive immigration vision are words I still believe strongly,” Mr. Bush told reporters after meeting with Mr. Calderon yesterday afternoon. The remarks came a day after Mr. Bush pledged to push the issue with the help of the new Democrat-led Congress.

Mr. Calderon said Mr. Bush “was very open to all the arguments that I have presented to him” on immigration.

The two men met face to face for the first time, ahead of Mr. Calderon’s Dec. 1 inauguration. The meeting comes two weeks after Mr. Bush signed a bill authorizing nearly 700 miles of new fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border.

Although he didn’t criticize the fence in his remarks to reporters in the Oval Office, Mr. Calderon said at a later press conference attended by Mexican and Spanish-language press that he told Mr. Bush the fence is a mistake.

“I told him our opinion that [the wall] is a mistaken remedy because it doesn’t resolve the problem,” the president-elect said, speaking in Spanish. “But he explained that this remedy was in response to the concerns of the United States to have a secure border.”

He and other Mexican officials have compared the fence — which will be built in major smuggling corridors — to the Berlin Wall. But the legislation enjoys widespread support in the United States, having passed both the House and Senate easily and winning an approval rate of more than 80 percent in some polls.

Mr. Calderon is dealing with political upheaval and violence in the state of Oaxaca in southern Mexico, a cause taken up yesterday by demonstrators who marched on Pennsylvania Avenue outside the White House, as the leaders were meeting.

At his Spanish press conference, Mr. Calderon put some of the burden on the United States, saying that Mexico’s southern regions need more investment and that the U.S. needs to do its part to fight crime and drug-trafficking, “particularly in the reduction of the demand for drugs.”

Both at his press conference and with the president, Mr. Calderon said the U.S.-Mexico relationship includes more than just immigration and border issues.

“We want to foster our trade relationship, our economic relationship even more,” he said. “We both understand that the only solution to many of the problems that we have is to create well-paid jobs in Mexico.”

Still, with millions of Mexicans living illegally in the United States, immigration is a dominant issue, touching on both countries’ security and economy.

Mexicans living in the United States — legally and illegally — will send home $24 billion in remittances this year, making it one of the nation’s largest sources of income, along with oil sales.

Mr. Bush and outgoing Mexican President Vicente Fox had pledged in 2001 to try to secure an immigration accord that would legalize Mexican illegal aliens, but those efforts stalled after the September 11 terrorist attacks boosted concerns over immigration and border security.

Congressional Republicans, in particular, have balked, arguing that allowing illegal aliens a path to citizenship amounts to an amnesty for bad behavior, and would encourage more illegal entry.

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