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Fox Backs Bush Immigration Plan - 2004-01-12

President Bush has won backing for his immigration proposals from Mexican President Vincente Fox. It is another sign of improved relations following differences over Iraq and other issues.

President Bush announced plans for a temporary worker program just days before his meeting with the Mexican leader.

Vicente Fox calls it an important proposal. Speaking through an interpreter at a joint news conference, he urged the U.S. Congress to endorse the White House initiative. "It is a priority. It is a valuable proposal," he said.

If approved, the program could potentially grant temporary legal status to millions of undocumented workers, most of them Mexican, now living in the United States. According to President Bush, the key is to match willing workers with employers who have jobs that are difficult to fill.

"This plan is not amnesty, placing undocumented workers on the automatic path of citizenship," he said. "I oppose amnesty, because it encourages the violation of our laws and perpetuates illegal immigration."

President Fox has been pushing the Bush administration since it took office to adopt new immigration rules. But all talk of reform fell by the wayside after the September 11th, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, with the focus shifting to border security.

President Bush's announcement of the proposed temporary worker program puts consideration of the immigration issue back on track. It also signals an attempt to improve relations with Mexico that soured during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq.

President Fox refused to endorse military action to oust Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein. But he told reporters after his talks with Mr. Bush that they stand together in the war on terrorism. As if to underscore his point to the American public, he switched from Spanish to English to talk about the capture of Saddam Hussein and his potential trial.

"We fully support that, and we congratulate President Bush and the United States for that very important accomplishment, which is for the betterment of all nations, all families and all people in the world," he said.

President Bush sat down with Vicente Fox almost immediately after he arrived in Mexico to attend a special hemispheric summit in the northern industrial city of Monterrey. The democratically elected leaders of 34 countries are taking part in the meeting. Mr. Bush said they have a lot of work to do.

"This summit's agenda is full. The United States will continue to work with our friends in the neighborhood in a spirit of common purpose and mutual respect," he said.

But differences on some issues were emerging even before the talks began in Monterrey. Some countries want less talk of trade pacts and more emphasis on fighting poverty. There is also a difference of opinion on U.S. efforts to isolate corrupt governments in the hemisphere.