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Immigration in focus at Cancun summit

President Bush meets with leaders of Mexico, Canada

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President Fox, left, takes President Bush, center, and Prime Minister Harper on a tour of a Mayan pyramid.

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CANCUN AGENDA

The leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada will meet in Cancun, each with different priorities.
What Bush wants:
The U.S. president will seek support for his vision of a guest-worker program.
What Fox wants:
The Mexican president hopes to gain a role or at least leverage in any development of a U.S. guest-worker plan.
What Harper wants:
Canada's new prime minister wants to improve bilateral relations in his first meeting with Bush, and resolve trade disputes.

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CANCUN, Mexico (CNN) -- Immigration, border security and trade issues topped the agenda Thursday as President Bush began a two-day summit with the leaders of Mexico and Canada in the Mexican resort town of Cancun.

Mexico's Vicente Fox, a conservative in the final months of his presidency, is host to Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper in the Yucatan resort.

Immigration was at the forefront when Bush and Fox met Thursday. The U.S. Senate is debating a bill to overhaul immigration laws, including a proposal by Bush to allow workers from Mexico and other countries to work legally in the United States for up to six years.

Bush's proposal has put him at odds with some lawmakers in his own Republican Party who are demanding restrictions on immigration.

During a joint appearance Thursday, Bush said he told Fox that he was "committed to having a comprehensive immigration bill on my desk."

"By comprehensive, I mean not only ... a bill that has border security in it, a bill that has interior enforcement in it, but a bill that has a worker-permit program in it," Bush said.

The Mexican government advocates a guest-worker program, arguing that it will help relieve security pressures along the border.

"If there is a guest-worker program, and it's a legal avenue to have the migrants that [the U.S.] economy needs, then we can concentrate on other things that are so, so important at the border," Mexican Ambassador to the United States Carlos de Icaza told CNN on Thursday. (Full story)

On the Mexican side of the border, the government has pledged to try to create more jobs and provide housing credits as incentives to keep Mexicans at home. (Watch Lou Dobbs give his strong views -- 12:50)

Bush's meeting with Harper was his first since Harper's Conservative Party won power in a January election, ending 12 years of Liberal Party rule in Canada.

The Bush administration had sometimes frosty relations with Harper's predecessors, Jean Chretien and Paul Martin, particularly after the Canadian government refused to join the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq.

Harper, who is much closer to Bush ideologically, said during his recent campaign that he wanted to improve relations with the United States.

Sitting alongside Bush after their meeting Thursday, Harper acknowledged that Iraq had been a source of "tension" between the two nations.

But he offered thanks for the assistance of U.S. and British officials in helping to gain last week's release of three Christian aid workers -- two Canadians and a Briton -- held hostage in Iraq. (Full story)

"I think this incident reminds us that when the chips are down, we all come together and support each other," Harper said.

Harper said the two leaders had agreed to have Cabinet-level meetings "as soon as possible" to seek resolution on an issue that has irked Canadians -- a proposal to require them to have passports to enter the United States.

U.S. officials have said the measure is necessary to prevent terrorists from crossing the border.

The proposed restrictions "present for us some pretty significant challenges," Harper said. "We are concerned about disruptions to trade and other travel."

In an interview Tuesday with the Canadian network CTV, Bush insisted that despite differences on some issues, the relationship between the two countries has remained "unique and very strong."

Bush showed some wiggle room on the travel issue, saying that the United States may settle instead for a "tamper-proof" document "that will expedite border crossings, not delay border crossings," rather than requiring a passport.

"The idea is to make sure that tourists and trade move freely, and terrorists don't," he said.

Before talks began Thursday, Bush toured the ancient Mayan ruins at Chichen Itza with Fox and Harper.

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