March 30, 2006

Bush under pressure from Fox on immigration

By Steve Holland and Randall Palmer

CHICHEN ITZA, Mexico (Reuters) - Mexican President Vicente
Fox played tour guide to U.S. President George W. Bush at
ancient Mayan ruins on Thursday before holding talks to urge
him to push through long-sought U.S. immigration reform.

Hosting a North American summit, Fox planned to offer
tighter border controls and incentives to lure some illegal
immigrants home, a pledge meant to help Bush convince a
skeptical Congress to let more Mexicans work legally in the
United States.

Bush and Fox, joined by new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen
Harper at Mexico's rowdy beach resort of Cancun, kicked off
with a visit to the nearby 1,500-year-old pyramid complex at
Chichen Itza, where some archeologists believe human sacrifices
took place.

It was a rare sightseeing detour for Bush, who usually
keeps to a tight diplomatic schedule, and raised speculation he
was trying to revive a back-slapping relationship with Fox that
saw them dubbed "the two amigos" at the start of their

Chichen Itza, a symbol of Mexico's status as the center of
ancient Indian empires before the Spanish conquest, was placed
under security lockdown for the visit by the three leaders.

Rifle-toting federal police in riot gear scuffled briefly
with 30 Mayan handicraft sellers bearing signs that said "Bush,
go home" and complaining of being barred from the site, and a
handful of anti-globalization demonstrators.

The summit marked Bush and Fox's first meeting in a year,
and immigration topped the agenda.

"This is a good start to a very important series of
discussions," said Bush after touring the hot, dusty ruins.

The U.S. Senate opened debate on Wednesday with Republicans
split on whether to back Bush's call for sweeping reforms to
create a guest worker program and put some of an estimated 12
million illegal immigrants on the path to citizenship.

Conservatives in Bush's party, normally his allies, reject
that as a form of amnesty and seek instead to erect a fence
along a third of the U.S.-Mexico border and make illegal
immigration a felony. The issue has brought out thousands of
mostly Hispanic protesters in major U.S. cities.


With his job approval ratings at a low point, immigration
is a new test of Bush's political strength at a time when his
second term has been beset by woes.

Fox, who has failed for five years to convince Washington
to let more Mexicans get jobs in the United States legally, is
making one more push before leaving office in December.

His government worked with the Mexican Senate to produce a
written document that recommends a crackdown on people
smugglers as well as housing and economic incentives to attract
undocumented immigrants into returning to Mexico.

That may help Bush win over some doubters in his party, but
opponents of his approach will demand decisive action by
Mexico, which accounts for more than half of all illegal
immigrants in the United States.

Fox will tell Bush the document shows Mexico's "sense of
shared responsibility," diplomat Geronimo Gutierrez said.

Mexican migrants in the United States sent about $20
billion home to their families last year, the country's second
largest source of hard currency after oil revenues.

Mexicans once had high hopes for Bush, who took office
promising to make America's southern neighbor a priority but
pushed the region to the back burner after the September 11

In Cancun, police and sniffer dogs mingled with U.S. and
European college students on spring vacations. Crowds were
smaller this year with many hotels still closed after last
October's Hurricane Wilma.

Harper, a conservative, said this week the Cancun summit
would help build better relations with Washington after
friction between Bush and former Prime Minister Paul Martin.

Bush hopes to solve a dispute with Canada over softwood
lumber, but Canadian officials said a deal was unlikely in
Cancun. Canada ships $6 billion in softwood lumber to the
United States each year.

Washington has slapped duties on the imports, saying Ottawa
unfairly subsidizes logging. Canada denies the claims and
accuses the United States of being protectionist.

(Additional reporting by Greg Brosnan and Lorraine Orlandi)