President Bush hosts his first official state visit Wednesday when he welcomes Mexican President Vicente Fox to the White House. The two leaders are expected to discuss a variety of issues, including immigration and cross-border trade.
Mr. Bush says, the foreign policy starts at home. Since taking office, the president has concentrated on expanding ties with America's southern neighbor, so it is no surprise that his first state visit welcomes the Mexican leader.
White House spokesman Ari Fleischer says it shows the importance Mr. Bush places on U.S./Mexican relations. "I think it's a reflection that President Bush, having come from a border state, grown-up in Texas, and been governor of Texas, has a very deep and personal appreciation for the importance that Mexico plays in the American way of life," he said.
U.S. and Mexican officials have spent the past six months discussing the future of more than 3 million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States. There were earlier expectations that this visit might include a breakthrough on amnesty for some of those workers, but there has been opposition in Congress that the move would reward people for entering the country illegally and is not fair to those waiting for proper visas.
Supporters say an amnesty would protect the labor rights of undocumented Mexican workers already in the United States who are not guaranteed a minimum wage.
During his vacation last month, President Bush said he opposes a general amnesty for Mexican workers but understands the economic realities driving immigrants to the United States. "There are people in Mexico who've got children who are worried about where they are going to get their next meal from, and they're going to come to the United States if they think they can make money here," he said. "That's a simple fact. And they are willing to walk across miles of desert to do work that some Americans won't do. And we've gotta respect that, seems like to me, and treat those people with respect."
Economists say there is no way to solve the immigration problem without leveling the disparity in living standards between the two countries. A report issued Tuesday by former government officials and academics from the United States and Mexico called on Canada and the United States to provide financial resources to help Mexico confront poverty and improve living standards.
President Bush says the best way to slow the flow of Mexican immigrants is by expanding Mexico's middle class through increased trade. He is a strong supporter of the North American Free Trade Agreement and wants to allow Mexican trucks to operate in the United States starting next year. That has been blocked by opposition in Congress and among labor unions that say Mexican trucks are not safe enough.
President Bush says there are plenty of obstacles confronting the two nations, but he is confident that his personal relationship with President Fox will go a long way to improving already solid ties. "We've got good relations," said President Bush. "And one of the things we've got to do is discuss common problems. We've got problems on our border. We've got problems with drug interdiction. We've got problems with environmental issues on our border. We've got water problems. And we've got immigration problems. And if we're going to have good relations with our neighbor, we ought to deal constructively with our problems - admit there's a problem and figure out ways to deal with it."
The two leaders will lead an unusual joint cabinet meeting Wednesday before a formal state dinner. President Bush and President Fox will visit the state of Ohio on Thursday. The Mexican leader also is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress.