Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Bush to push for more lenient immigration laws

President Bush told Mexican President Vicente Fox on Wednesday that he would keep pushing for more lenient immigration laws, but said he couldn't guarantee that Congress would go along.

Bush renewed his commitment to a guest-worker program during a daylong summit with Fox and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin. The leaders pledged to work together on a host of issues, but they acknowledged some of the differences that have strained relations in the past.

Bush's failure to win congressional approval for more lenient immigration laws has been a sore point with Fox.

"You've got my pledge - I'll continue working on it," Bush told Fox during a joint news conference here at Baylor University. "You don't have my pledge that Congress will act because I'm not a member of the legislative branch."

Bush's guest-worker plan would let several million immigrants who are in the country illegally become legal by getting temporary work visas. The idea has stalled in Congress because of opposition from both parties.

Some Republicans oppose Bush's call for more open borders. Some Democrats think Bush is more concerned about providing cheap labor for businesses than he is about making life easier for foreign workers.

A study released earlier this week concluded that the illegal immigrant population has reached an all-time high of nearly 11 million. The study by the Pew Hispanic Center, a private research group based in Washington, also found that undocumented Mexicans accounted for 57 percent of all illegal entrants.

"That job ought to be filled on a legal basis, no matter where the person comes from. That makes sense," Bush said. The president also echoed Fox's criticism of citizen groups in border states that seek to catch and detain illegal immigrants entering the United States.

"I'm against vigilantes," Bush said. "That's why you got a border patrol, and they ought to be in charge of enforcing the border."

But for all the talk of cooperation, Bush and his guests remained apart on some issues. Martin flatly ruled out Canadian participation in Bush's plan for a missile defense system for North America, telling a Canadian journalist that "the file is closed" on that issue.

Martin also prodded Bush to ease U.S. import restrictions on Canadian lumber and Canadian beef. Some Canadian lumber is subject to trade duties, and beef imports have been banned because of concerns about mad-cow disease.

"Look, we've got differences," Bush said. "I understand why people disagree with certain decisions I have made, but that doesn't prevent us from cooperating."