March 31, 2006 in Nation/World

Bush, Fox say immigration reform is up to U.S. Congress

William Douglas Knight Ridder
Associated Press photo

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, left, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, right, tour Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza, Mexico, on Thursday, during their North American summit.
(Full-size photo)

CANCUN, Mexico – President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox said Thursday that immigration reform is out of their hands while the Senate debates a comprehensive proposal that includes a guest worker program.

Bush and Fox had hoped that the two-day summit here with new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper would yield some progress in revamping immigration policy and creating a guest worker provision, which both leaders want.

But by the end of the summit’s first day, both men said that immigration reform was a work in progress, with the work being done on Capitol Hill. Fox tried to lower expectations of Thursday’s meeting even before he sat down for his one-on-one session with Bush.

“It’s not here, in these meetings, where a migration agreement is made,” Fox said after a morning sightseeing tour of Mayan ruins in Chichen Itza with Bush and Harper. “It is an issue for the Congress of the United States. And there they will make the decision. It is no longer between President Bush and President Fox.”

Some Mexican officials had expressed optimism about a potential breakthrough on immigration prior to the summit.

The Mexican government had launched a public relations offensive, taking out full-page ads last week in the New York Times, Washington Post and Los Angeles Times. The ads outlined its support for a guest worker program and urged the United States to address the status of the millions of illegal immigrants in the country.

The Senate is in the midst of a two-week debate on immigration policy as congressional midterm elections and the 2008 presidential campaign loom, and as immigration rises as a hot-button issue among voters.

The Senate Judiciary Committee completed work this week on a comprehensive immigration reform bill that would allow illegal immigrants in the United States as of Jan. 7, 2004, to obtain visas and stay in the country for six years while applying for permanent residency. They would have to pay fines and back taxes and show proficiency in English and civics.

The Senate is expected to vote next week on whether the committee bill should replace an enforcement-only measure by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., as the primary Senate bill.

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