President Bush wrapped up his trip to Latin America in Merida, Mexico Wednesday, where he and his host, Mexican President Felipe Calderon, went before reporters. VOA's Greg Flakus was there and has this report.
The two presidents acknowledged that their meeting here had not produced any major accords, but they both agreed to keep working on issues of mutual concern, such as immigration reform, the fight against drugs and further liberalization of trade.
President Bush noted that achieving immigration reform in the United States has not been easy because lawmakers want U.S. immigration laws enforced effectively. He said he believes recent efforts by his administration have achieved better enforcement and that he now sees an opportunity to move Congress to act on immigration reform.
"I am optimistic because Republicans in the senate are working with Democrats in the senate," said President Bush. "We are facilitating that work. The administration is very much involved in helping senators find common ground to the point where we can move a bill as quickly as possible."
But critics of the president's reform effort are mobilizing to stop what they see as an amnesty for people who entered the country illegally. The Minuteman organization, which has placed volunteers on the border to help detect illegal entries, issued a statement calling the bill proposed in the senate by Democrat Senator Edward Kennedy and Republican Senator John McCain a lure to Hispanic votes which "casts aside the security concerns of law-abiding Americans."
That view is likely to be voiced by several Republican members of the House of Representatives who have worked in the past to block any reform package that included a guest worker program. President Bush, however, can count on support from most Democrats. Democrats gained control of both houses of Congress in last year's midterm election.
At the news conference, a U.S. reporter asked President Calderon about the legal status of some of his own relatives living and working in the United States.
He said he does have relatives in the United States and that they are people who work hard and respect the nation where they live. He said they are among the people who harvest crops, clean dishes in restaurants and in other ways contribute to the U.S. economy. He added, however, that his goal is to improve the economy of Mexico so that Mexican workers will not have to leave the country to find better-paying jobs.
The two presidents also discussed ways of improving the joint fight against drug smuggling and organized crime.
President Bush acknowledged the law enforcement campaign launched by President Calderon against drug traffickers and other criminals shortly after he took office in December. He also said the United States has a duty to reduce demand for illicit narcotics.
"I made it very clear to the president that I recognize the United States has a responsibility in the fight against drugs and one major responsibility to encourage people to use less drugs," he said. "When there is demand, there is supply."
President Calderon hailed the cooperation between the two countries on this issue and expressed the view that the 3,000-kilometer U.S.-Mexico border should provide benefits to both nations.
He said the border should be a place where the two nations come closer, not more distant and that the border should unite the people of the two countries, not divide them.
This was the second meeting between President Bush and his Mexican counterpart since Mr. Calderon assumed office December 1, but their first meeting in Mexico.