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Bush, Fox Toast Friendship, Cooperation at White House Dinner - 2001-09-06

Mexican President Vicente Fox makes his case for immigration reform before the U.S. Congress Thursday. The Mexican leader was the guest of honor at a White House state dinner Wednesday evening.

President Bush welcomed the Mexican leader to an elegant White House dinner of roast bison followed by mango ice cream with red chile pepper sauce. He toasted his guest, saying their friendship promises a new era of closer cooperation between the two neighbors.

"This is not only a state dinner, it's like a family gathering," The president said. " The most important ties between your country and mine, Mr. President, go beyond economics and politics and geography. They are the ties of heritage, culture, and family. This is true for millions of Mexican and American families including my own."

The President's brother Jeb, who is Governor of the state of Florida, is married to a Mexican. They attended the state dinner along with more than 100 politicians, entertainers, business people, and academics.

In his toast, President Fox spoke of his long friendship with Mr. Bush during the time when the U.S. President was Governor of the border state of Texas.

"We have in common that we like to see things happen," Mr. Fox said. " And I learned to see President Bush as a man of action, as a man of his word, and as a man of results. And this is what makes me sure, confident that we are going to build a future. That we are going to come up with answers for migration. That we are going to come up with answers to confront organized crime in the international arena. And I am sure now that we will develop and grow together. That we will enrich both of our societies. That we will move with success into the 21st century."

President Fox urged Mr. Bush to work toward a new immigration policy by the end of the year to address the plight of more than three million undocumented Mexican workers in the United States.

President Bush opposes a general amnesty for those workers, but he clearly wants to come to some sort of agreement with President Fox that would protect the rights of undocumented Mexicans without appearing to reward illegal immigration.

U.S. and Mexican officials have spent the last six months discussing the issue. There were earlier expectations that this visit to Washington might include a breakthrough on amnesty for some of those workers, but it now appears there will simply be a restatement of the leaders' commitment to keep working on it.

Some members of Congress from both political parties oppose the move saying it would reward people for entering the country illegally and is unfair to those waiting for proper visas.

Supporters say an amnesty would protect the labor rights of currently undocumented Mexican workers who are not guaranteed a minimum wage.

President Bush says the way to solve the immigration problem is to level the economic inequalities between the countries by increasing trade.

President Fox takes his case for immigration reform to a joint meeting of Congress Thursday. The two Presidents then travel to the U.S. state of Ohio where they will speak at the University of Toledo and visit a Hispanic community center.