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Mexico's leader seeks immigration deal this year

President George W. Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox on Wednesday during a welcoming ceremony on the White House South Lawn.  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Mexican President Vicente Fox said Wednesday he would like to see a wide-ranging agreement with U.S. officials on immigration by the end of the year.

President Bush welcomed Fox to the White House for talks on immigration and other subjects on Wednesday, and Fox was the guest of honor at the president's first state dinner Wednesday night. Fox wants a blanket amnesty for Mexican immigrants who entered the United States illegally, which Bush opposes.

"We must, and we can, reach an agreement on migration before the end of this very year, which will allow us before the end of our respective terms to make sure that there are no Mexicans who have not entered this country legally in the United States and that those Mexicans who have come into the country do so with the proper documents," Fox said.

CNN's John King says getting along doesn't translate to getting things done as U.S. and Mexico tackle tough issues (September 5)

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Watch CNN's John King's report on the Fox-Bush meetings. (September 4)

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Fox's comments came as the White House has tried to downplay the prospect of a new agreement governing immigration from Mexico. Bush opposes a blanket amnesty but is considering the expansion of a temporary worker program that would allow Mexicans living illegally in the U.S. to gain permanent legal residency.

The welcoming ceremony was followed by a closed-door meeting between Bush and Fox and between Cabinet officers from both nations. Bush described the dialogue during the meetings as "frank."

"Our relationship with Mexico is an incredibly important relationship," Bush said. "It's one where there's a lot of opportunity. And it's a relationship where there's problems. And in order to deal with those problems and take advantage of those opportunities it's important to have discussions at all levels in our government."

Fox said there were "clear advances" in the talks. "But more so there is a clear advance on this philosophy of trust that we are building in, that we have built in the process," he said.

Although a full agreement on immigration is not expected, the two leaders are expected to carve out a framework of principles that would set the stage for further talks.

Bush has cultivated his relationship with Fox and has made new ties with Mexico a key point of his administration's international policy. Bush and his Republican Party also have been trying to reach out to Hispanic voters in the United States, many of whom have ties to Mexico. He toasted Fox at Wednesday night's state dinner by saying, "A long border lies between us, but it does not divide us."

For his part, Fox has been trying to raise Mexico's profile on the world stage. He returned the toast, saying, "I am sure now that we will develop and grow together, to enrich both of our societies."

Fox, a former Coca-Cola executive, won Mexico's presidency last year as the candidate of the conservative National Action Party. It was the first win by the opposition to Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party in 71 years.

He and Bush also are expected to discuss antidrug efforts and a shared border-control program. Fox already has Bush's support for a proposal to allow Mexican long-haul trucks unlimited access to U.S. roads despite opposition from the Teamsters union, which supported Bush's energy proposals.

"The best way to take pressure off our borders is for Mexico to grow a middle class, and the avenue for Mexico to grow a middle class is trade," Bush said.

Both leaders face economic woes at home. Fox has so far been unable to deliver on a promise of spurring 1.5 million new jobs. Bush is trying to persuade Congress to grant him broad power to negotiate trade agreements, using the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico as a model.

Analysts credit NAFTA with spurring a 7 percent increase in Mexico's gross domestic product in 2000, but the U.S. economic slowdown has also ground Mexico's economy to a halt and prompted layoffs.

U.S. exports to Mexico are up by nearly 170 percent since NAFTA took effect in 1994. Mexican exports to the United States grew 240 percent during the same period and now account for 25 percent of Mexico's economy.

Organized labor blames NAFTA for lost U.S. manufacturing jobs, however, and other critics note that 1993's $1.7 billion U.S. trade surplus with Mexico is now a $23 billion trade deficit.

Fox will join Bush on a visit to Toledo, Ohio, late Thursday, and plans to meet with the president's brother -- Florida Gov. Jeb Bush -- on Friday.

• The White House
• Presidency of the Republic of Mexico

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