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Bush Talks in Guatemala Dominated by Immigration


President Bush says he is hopeful there can be U.S. congressional action by August on immigration reform. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports the controversial issue dominated his talks in Guatemala City with Guatemalan President Oscar Berger.

Immigration is a big issue in Guatemala.

Ten percent of all Guatemalans have immigrated to the United States, many of them illegally.

President Bush says he knows they want a better life for themselves and their families. He says one answer is to help them find jobs at home. Another is for the U.S. Congress to implement his plan for immigration reform - a proposal that includes a temporary guest worker program.

"I am optimistic we can do so," said President Bush. "It is going to be tough work, don't get me wrong. But I believe we can get a comprehensive bill out of the Congress."

Appearing at a joint news conference with the Guatemalan president, Mr. Bush said he would like to see bills clear the House and Senate by August. But he noted immigration is a complicated issue, and acknowledged there is no consensus among congressional Republicans.

"I readily concede the situation needs to be changed and I hope I can convince a majority of the House and the Senate to change the law in a rational way," he said.

During their joint news conference, both presidents talked about the strong ties linking their countries. But there was clearly a divergence of views on the deportation of illegal Guatemalan migrants caught in the United States. When a Guatemalan reporter asked about a recent raid on illegal workers at a factory in Massachusetts, President Bush stood firm. He said the United States will enforce its laws.

"It is against our law to hire somebody who is in our country illegally," noted George W. Bush. "And we are a nation of law."

Earlier in the day, Mr. Bush left Guatemala City and went by helicopter to the countryside. At his other stops in Latin America, he has talked about the twin topics of trade and aid in official settings. But here in Guatemala, he went directly to the people.

He shook hands with people in the crowd in a busy square in the town of Santa Cruz Balanya, stopping before a church that was rebuilt after a 1976 earthquake with help from the United States.

Mr. Bush also visited American and Guatemalan military doctors, nurses and technicians providing healthcare services to the poor. And he loaded crates of lettuce onto a truck at a farm cooperative that has benefited from both U.S. aid and the Central American Free Trade Agreement.

"We want people to realize their God-given potential," he said. "You have proven that if given a chance, you and hundreds of others can succeed and that's what we want."

But not everyone welcomed the president. During his visit to the countryside, he stopped to tour Mayan ruins. Mayan leaders said they plan to cleanse the site of "bad spirits" after his departure.

From Guatemala, Mr. Bush travels to Mexico's Gulf Coast - the last stop on his five-nation Latin American tour.

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