How to deal with the troublesome issue of immigration has dominated daylong talks among the leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada Friday. The trilateral summit at the Mexican resort of Cancun once again focused attention on the movement of people across the United States' southern and northern land borders.
For those crossing the southern U.S. border from Mexico, President Bush is backing legislation to create a temporary program for Mexican workers.
"An important part of securing the border and enforcing our laws is to recognize there are people in our country doing work that Americans will not do, and those people ought to be given the chance to have a tamper-proof card that enables them to work in our country legally for a period of time," said Mr. Bush.
Mexican President Vicente Fox also supports the guest worker program, saying it is part of a regional security and prosperity initiative. Six million Mexicans make up more than half of the illegal-alien population in the United States. The money they send home is an important part of the Mexican economy.
The U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee this week approved a temporary worker program that would also offer permanent residency and U.S. citizenship for some. That has brought opposition from members of President Bush's own Republican Party, who feel it is a form of amnesty for people who entered the country illegally.
Speaking at the close of their two-day summit, President Bush said illegal immigrants would not be given preference over legal immigrants waiting for citizenship. He says he looks forward to working with Congress to bring people out of the shadows, and put out of business the criminals who exploit foreigners desperate to enter the United States.
"A nation of laws can also be a welcoming nation, and I believe a guest worker program will help us rid the society on the border of these coyotes [human smugglers] who smuggle people in the back of 18-wheelers," added Mr. Bush. "I believe it will help get rid of the document-forgers. I believe it will help people on both sides of the border respect the laws of our border and enforce our borders."
For those crossing the northern border with Canada, President Bush intends to enforce laws requiring passports, or a new identity card by the end of next year. If properly implemented, he says, it will boost trade and travel between the neighbors.
"Envision a card that can be swiped across a reading device that facilitates the movement of people. Look, I understand this issue has created consternation," explained Mr. Bush. "Your prime minister made it very clear to me that he is very worried that such an implementation of laws on the books will make it less likely people will want to travel between our countries."
Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper says he understands the need for secure borders, but questions the effect the identity provisions will have on commerce.
"We are obviously concerned that, if we do not move quickly and properly on this, that this could have effects on trade and movement of people, conventions, you name it, that it is not helpful to our economy, or our relationships," said Mr. Bush.
Prime Minister Harper says resolving the issue will be a top priority for security officials from both countries. President Bush says his administration has an obligation to work closely with Canadian officials to establish a set of standards.
Following the summit, President Bush spends the weekend at his Texas ranch before returning to Washington and the debate over the Senate immigration bill.
That measure must pass the full Senate before being reconciled with a stricter House bill that makes it a felony to be in the country illegally, and stiffens penalties for employers who hire illegal aliens.