March 30, 2006

Bush seeks support from Fox on immigration

By Matt Spetalnick and Greg Brosnan

CANCUN, Mexico (Reuters) - Facing a tough battle to push
immigration reform through the U.S. Congress, President George
W. Bush sought support from Mexican President Vicente Fox at
talks on Thursday on Mexico's Caribbean coast.

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

Mexicans account for more than half of the estimated 12
million illegal immigrants in the United States.

The two men and new Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper
toured hot, dusty ruins at the Mayan archeological site of
Chichen Itza ahead of meetings in the beach resort of Cancun.

"This is a good start to a very important series of
discussions," Bush said at the base of a pyramid.

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 several 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 tens of
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.


He will tell Bush that Mexico has a "sense of shared
responsibility" on halting illegal immigration and securing the
border, diplomat Geronimo Gutierrez said.

A Mexican government official said Fox will promise more
vigilance on Mexico's porous southern border with Guatemala,
which thousands of illegal immigrants from Central America
cross every day on their way to the United States.

Fox played tour guide to Bush and Harper at the
1,500-year-old pyramid site of Chichen Itza. The leaders
climbed only a few of the 91 steps of the El Castillo pyramid.

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

Despite an increase in anti-U.S. feeling in Latin America
in recent years, there were few protests in the resort, which
is far from major Mexican cities and too expensive for most
Mexicans to stay in.

About 50 anti-globalization protesters chanted "Bush,
Murderer," at a demonstration in downtown Cancun, some 10 miles

from the plush hotel strip where the leaders met.

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

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, Mexican marines dressed in black patrolled the
beach beside topless tourists. Spring break college students
are fewer 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 Steve Holland and Lorraine