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Summit of the Americas to Focus on Regional Trade, Immigration - 2004-01-10

President Bush meets with North and South American leaders in Mexico Monday. Immigration and regional trade will be key issues at the summit.

Atop the president's agenda for the Special Summit of the Americas is his just-announced plan to reform U.S. immigration laws to legalize some of at least eight million undocumented workers in the United States.

The plan would give renewable temporary worker cards to illegal immigrants who already have jobs. They would then be free to travel between the United States and their home country, without penalty, while enjoying all the benefits of U.S. labor protections, including minimum wage, workplace safety standards and due process.

The president's plan is facing opposition from more conservative members of his own party, who oppose rewarding people who have entered the country illegally and are working here without permission.

In his weekly radio address, Mr. Bush again stressed that this plan does not reward illegal immigrants with citizenship, but instead fills jobs that Americans are not willing to take.

If an American employer is offering a job that American citizens are not willing to take, we ought to welcome into our country a person who will fill that job.

During the president's two days of talks with North and South American leaders in Monterrey, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice says, Mr. Bush will also work to build on progress in strengthening democracy and promoting greater prosperity in the hemisphere.

"The leaders will discuss their commitment and support to economic growth, especially as it pertains to the private sector and small businesses; ways to reduce the level of poverty in the hemisphere; how to improve the lives of citizens, specifically focusing on education; and also, how to address critical health issues, such as the pandemic of AIDS," she said.

Ms. Rice says the president will also reinforce the benefits of free and open markets, the importance of transparent elections and the need to fight corruption.

On restructuring debt in Argentina, Ms. Rice says the Bush administration is optimistic that talks with the International Monetary Fund will be successful.

"I believe that there's a good chance they will get there, because everybody wants to see the Argentine economy recover; everybody wants to see Argentina deal with the very difficult debt overhang that it has," said Condoleezza Rice. "But there have to be some difficult decisions and some difficult steps taken by Argentina. And the president will say that again, when he meets with President [Nestor] Kirchner."

On Venezuela, Ms. Rice says the country is going through a very tough period in its democratic development. She says Mr. Bush will encourage President Hugo Chavez to allow a recall vote to proceed without interference.

"President Chavez has an opportunity to demonstrate that he believes in democratic processes by allowing this recall to go through unhindered, unfettered, and then living up to the terms of it," she said. "And that's what people are asking him to do."

President Bush returns to the United States Tuesday, ahead of a Wednesday meeting with Spanish leader Jose Maria Aznar.