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Bush, Mexican President Calderon Focus on Immigration, Drug Trade


President Bush is visiting a hacienda (plantation) in the Mexican state of Yucatan with his host, President Felipe Calderon, where the two leaders are discussing immigration, the fight against drug smugglers and other matters of mutual concern. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Merida, there are low expectations on both sides of the border for this meeting.

In his greeting to President Bush Tuesday President Calderon emphasized the importance each country has to the other.

He said President Bush had made that same point on a previous visit, with then-president Vicente Fox in 2001. But the terrorist attacks in Washington and New York later that same year derailed plans both Bush and Fox had for comprehensive immigration reform.

In his greeting, President Calderon expressed support for Bush's effort to create a guest worker program as part of any reform approved by the U.S. Congress.

But the Mexican leader criticized U.S. plans to build nearly 1,000 kilometers of fencing along the border, saying that spending such funds on building roads in Mexico's interior would do more to curb the migration of workers to the north.

He also underscored the limits of his power to discourage illegal immigration, saying it could not be done by decree.

But U.S. advocates of greater border security and better enforcement of U.S. immigration laws are campaigning against any immigration reform package that would create what they believe would be an amnesty.

Illegal immigrants already use false documents and other measures to avoid deportation and backlogged immigration officials are ill-equipped to stop them.

For this reason, critics of the Bush proposal say any guest worker program, regardless of the rules and legalities it may contain, would be quickly subverted by the illegal immigrants.

U.S. critics of the guest worker plan also complain that Mexico sends its poor to the United States in order to avoid the difficult changes needed to provide for them at home and because the immigrants send back some $20 billion a year in remittances, second only to oil as a source of national income in Mexico.

The reluctance of Mexico's elite to address the problem of poverty was underscored last week when Forbes magazine revealed that Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim Helu is ranked as the third richest person in the world.

In a nation where half the population is below the poverty line and many people live on as little as half a dollar a day, the telephone company Slim operates is a virtual monopoly and, according to a report by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, charges its users exorbitant rates.

In a news conference Monday, Slim denied this and criticized the report.

He said telecommunications in a developing nation require heavy investment. He said his companies have invested four billion dollars in infrastructure.

But, when asked about his own philanthropy, Slim mocked the other two top men on the Forbes list, U.S. billionaires Bill Gates and Warren Buffet, saying he did not plan on playing Santa Claus.

He said his idea was to do things and resolve problems rather than give out money. He said his function is to build a strong business, not spread wealth.

Slim did say he will provide more money for a foundation he started which supports better healthcare in Mexico and he suggested that the United States send more of its elderly patients to hospitals in Mexico, where costs are cheaper. Among Slim's many holdings is a company that constructs hospitals in Mexico.