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Immigration Tops Agenda at North American Summit

President Bush is in New Orleans, playing host to his North American counterparts, Mexican President Felipe Calderon and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from New Orleans, immigration was a top issue with President Calderon.

President Bush accompanied President Calderon to the opening of Mexico's newest consulate here in New Orleans. The previous consulate located here had been Mexico's oldest one, opened in 1822, shortly after the country gained independence from Spain. It was closed in 2002, but thousands of Mexican laborers have come to New Orleans since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 to work on reconstruction projects.

At the opening of the consulate, President Calderon, said Mexico wants to assist and protect its citizens in the states of Louisiana and Mississippi that the consulate will serve.

"With the reopening of this consulate, we will be able to guarantee those Mexicans who live and work in Louisiana and Mississippi that they will have the support of the Mexican government," said President Calderon. "It is my commitment that no matter where there is a Mexican citizen, he or she will also have the support of our government."

Around 30,000 Mexicans are in the New Orleans area now, part of an influx of workers from various parts of Latin America drawn here by jobs in clean up and construction. President Calderon called this flow of labor a natural consequence of the United States having an advantage in capital and Mexico having an advantage in labor.

"For that reason, I know that we must have a comprehensive vision in this area, in the area of migration, which will allow us to work together in order to build a more prosperous and safer North American continent," he said.

While President Bush favors a guest worker program that would allow Mexicans to enter the United States on temporary work visas, Congress set aside the issue after opponents attacked it as an amnesty. Immigration has ceased being a major issue in the US presidential campaign since all three remaining candidates favor some sort of comprehensive reform, but also support stricter enforcement at the border.

After meeting for a private conversation with President Calderon, President Bush praised bilateral efforts to fight drug traffickers.

"We got to work hard on our side to make sure we reduce drug use and, at the same time, work with you in close coordination to defeat these drug traffickers," said President Bush. "We need to continue our initiative that we started during your administration, Mr. President, to deal with arms trafficking, arms coming from the United States into Mexico."

Canada's Prime Minister is focusing mostly on trade issues at this tri-lateral meeting, but he is also expected to discuss a particular border issue with President Bush, that being the need to expand the bridge that joins the US city of Detroit and the Canadian city of Windsor. The bridge was opened in 1929, when there was much less traffic between the two countries. Now, partly as a result of the North American Free Trade Agreement, traffic has grown dramatically.

The three North American leaders will attend a dinner Monday evening and then hold formal talks Tuesday morning.

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