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Bush to earn Fox backing in immigration fight

Greg Brosnan / Reuters | March 30 2006

Facing a tough battle to push immigration reform through U.S. Congress, President George W. Bush was likely to win support from President Vicente Fox at talks on Mexico's Caribbean coast on Thursday.

Fox will offer tighter border security and incentives to help bring illegal Mexican immigrants back home when the pair meet in the beach resort of Cancun, Mexican officials say.

The U.S. Senate began debating immigration reform on Wednesday and Republicans are split over whether to support an effort backed by Bush to create a guest worker program for millions of immigrants.

Conservatives in Bush's party reject that idea, instead seeking to erect a high-tech security fence along a third of the border and make illegal immigration a felony.

Fox, who for five years has failed to convince Washington to allow more Mexicans to work in the United States legally, is keen for one more push before he leaves office in December. His government worked with the Mexican Senate to produce a written document that recommends a crackdown on people smugglers, and housing and economic incentives to attract undocumented aliens to return to Mexico.

That may help Bush win over doubters in his party.

Fox will tell Bush the document is proof of Mexico's commitment to a safer border and to fighting illegal immigration, senior Mexican diplomat Geronimo Gutierrez said.

"It is important because it transmits a clear sense of shared responsibility on the part of Mexico," Gutierrez told journalists on Wednesday.


Mexican police in full body armor and presidential guards with sniffer dogs mingled with tourists in bikinis in Cancun in a big security operation for the Bush visit.

But despite an increase in anti-U.S. feeling in Latin America in recent years, there were no signs of protesters in the resort, which is far from major Mexican cities and too expensive for most Mexicans to stay in.

Ships were forbidden from coming within a nautical mile of the white sandy shores of Cancun's hotel zone where the two presidents will meet. Normally busy marinas were almost empty.

Bush will visit the Mayan archeological site of Chichen Itza on Thursday morning before seeing Fox.

The talks are part of a three-way summit of North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, countries that includes new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The premier, a conservative, said the Cancun talks would help build better relations with Washington after friction between Bush and former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

"I think the meeting is certainly an opportunity to get dialogue between our countries onto a more mature and productive wavelength," he said this week.

Martin complained last year that the United States was trying to dictate to him what topics he could discus in the campaign for Canada's January election.

Bush hopes to solve a long-simmering dispute with Canada over softwood lumber, but Canadian government officials said a deal was unlikely in Cancun.

Canada ships $6 billion in softwood lumber such as spruce, fir and pine to the United States each year. Washington has slapped duties on the imports, saying Ottawa's below-market logging rates represent an unfair subsidy. Canada denies the claims and accuses the United States of being protectionist.




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