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Bush pushes guest-worker program

President Bush, leaders of Mexico and Canada wrap up Cancun meetings

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President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper listen as Mexico's Vicente Fox speaks Friday.

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CANCUN AGENDA

The leaders of the United States, Mexico and Canada met in Cancun, each with different priorities.
What Bush wants:
The U.S. president seeks 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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Vicente Fox

CANCUN, Mexico (CNN) -- U.S. President Bush is pushing a program to allow more immigrants to work in the United States as he and the leaders of Mexico and Canada wrap up a two-day summit in Cancun, Mexico, on Friday.

"Look, we've got long borders. We've got to make sure we work hard to secure the borders. We also got to make sure we've got smart borders," Bush said at a joint news conference Friday.

"So, the whole vision of our borders has got to be to enhance trade and tourism, but to prevent smugglers and terrorists and dope runners from polluting our countries. And I'm confident with the use of technology and by close collaboration, we'll be able to achieve those objectives," Bush said.

Bush emphasized that the debate over immigration needed "to bring dignity to America, recognizing that America is a nation of immigrants." (Watch the debate as the political play of the week -- 1:48)

"There are people in our country doing work that Americans will not do, and those people ought to be given a chance to have a tamper-proof card that enables them to work in our country legally for a period of time," Bush said.

Such a guest-worker program, Bush said, "will help us rid the society on the border of these coyotes who smuggle people in the back of 18-wheelers. I believe it'll help get rid of the document forgers. I believe it'll help people on both sides of our border respect the laws of our border and enforce our borders."

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

The U.S. Senate is debating a bill to overhaul immigration laws, including the guest-worker proposal, which would allow foreign nationals to get permits to work legally in the United States for three or 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 and criticize his proposal as an "amnesty" for illegal workers already in the United States. (Read about what House conservatives are saying)

The Mexican government supports the 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 the 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.

He also paid tribute to Fox's tenure as the leader of Mexico.

"I trust that [Fox] is going to leave a stronger economy that is shared, a firm democracy, respect for human rights and faithfulness to the most important principles for our shared progress for the security and prosperity partnership for North America and all the good results that come from a free market economy."

Harper said he and Bush have 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.

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