President Bush says he is committed to getting a comprehensive immigration reform package through the U.S. Congress - one that includes creation of a guest worker program. He spoke after talks in the Mexican resort of Cancun with President Vicente Fox.
President Bush went to Cancun at a time when Americans across the country are focusing on the emotional issue of illegal immigration.
Polls show the public is just about split, with half wanting a crackdown on undocumented workers and others saying steps should be taken to allow many to work in the United States legally on a temporary basis.
The debate followed Mr. Bush to Mexico - the homeland of many of the more than 11 million undocumented immigrants now in the United States. Mexican President Vicente Fox has long called for reforms, such as implementation of the Bush administration's proposed guest worker program.
As they sat down for talks in Cancun, President Bush reassured his counterpart that getting a bill with a guest worker program is a priority. He said he is optimistic a good bill will pass Congress, but made clear that given the passions on both sides, it may take time. "I told the president there is a legislative process that is going forward and that it may look cumbersome to some, but that is how our democracy works," he said.
The Senate started debate on immigration reform on Wednesday. The House passed its version of the bill in December - one that focused solely on border security and enforcement and said illegal immigrants should be treated as felons.
Immigration advocates have taken to the streets to protest the House bill and are urging the Senate to strip out the language making illegal immigration a felony and include a guest worker program. Mr. Bush left no doubt, that is his hope too. "I am optimistic we can get a bill done and I look forward to working with members of both parties to get a bill done," he said.
President Bush also praised Mexico for promising stronger action to police the U.S.-Mexican border. Speaking in Spanish, President Fox stressed border security is a shared responsibility.
He said Mexico's commitment to security is firm, and noted his government is working with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security on border issues. He said Mexico wants a secure border, not only for the benefit of its own citizens, but also for the benefit of its relationship with the United States.
The Bush-Fox talks were a prelude to a three-way North American summit meeting Friday that will also include the new prime minister of Canada, Stephen Harper. Prime Minister Harper also met privately with President Bush - their first official meeting since Mr. Harper's took office two months ago.
Before their formal bilateral discussions got under way, the three leaders did a little sightseeing, leaving the resort town to tour some ancient Mayan ruins. They wrapped up their first full day in Cancun with a dinner hosted by President Fox.