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Bush Seeks to Repair Frayed Ties During Mexico Visit


President Bush spent Tuesday highlighting U.S. ties with Mexico, and his desire to find common ground on the controversial issue of immigration. VOA's Paula Wolfson reports from Merida - the last stop on his five nation Latin America tour.

President Bush spent much of the day behind closed doors with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

At the top of the agenda was what to do about the flow of illegal Mexican immigrants across their common border.

Speaking at an arrival ceremony in the sun-drenched grounds of a restored country estate turned luxury hotel, Mr. Bush promised action.

"And so Mr. President, my pledge to you and your government - but more importantly, the people of Mexico - is I will work as hard as I possibly can to pass comprehensive immigration reform," said President Bush.

But President Calderon made clear his country is impatient, noting the toll illegal immigration has taken on Mexico.

"Mexicans lose in each migrant, the best of our people, young people, working people, and audacious people, strong people - people that leave Mexico because they don't find the opportunities here in order to pull through with their lives," he said.

His public comments were direct - far more so than those uttered by any of the other Latin American leaders who met with Mr. Bush during his travels.

Mr. Calderon criticized a new U.S. law that authorizes funding for a fence along parts of the border. And he recalled the promise President Bush made shortly after taking office to make hemispheric relations a priority - a vow that was broken after the September 11, 2001 attacks on the United States.

"I believe that it is now time to retake the spirit of these words and to direct our relationship toward a path of mutual prosperity," said Felipe Calderon.

A top aide to President Bush - White House Counselor Dan Bartlett - said Mr. Bush was not surprised by the criticism, noting immigration is a tough topic for all concerned.

"It's a very emotional debate," said Dan Bartlett. "It's an emotional debate in our own country, and I'm sure it's a very emotional debate in this country, because the lives - so many lives are affected, and children are affected, and moms and dads are affected."

Trade and development were also on the agenda for the Bush-Calderon talks, along with the growing threat of narco-trafficking.

It was the first meeting between the two men since Mr. Calderon's inauguration in December after a razor-thin election victory.

Following their talks, they took some time off to visit the remains of an ancient Mayan city at Uxmal. Throughout President Bush's visit, security was tight. But there were no signs of the kind of boisterous demonstrations seen earlier during his Latin America tour.

Mexico was the last stop in a journey that took the president to Brazil, Uruguay, Colombia and Guatemala. He returns to Washington on Wednesday.

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