The San Diego Union-Tribune

September 5, 2001

U.S., Mexico seek lower expectations for summit

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By JOE CANTLUPE and DANA WILKIE 
COPLEY NEWS SERVICE 

WASHINGTON -- Tuning up for an ambitious presidential summit, top-level U.S. and Mexican officials agreed yesterday to improve food safety, housing and educational opportunities along the border, and to cooperate better in fighting drug traffickers.

Hours before Mexican President Vicente Fox arrived here last night for his much-anticipated visit with President Bush, administration officials again downplayed immediate prospects for a breakthrough in immigration reform, which has topped the agendas of both administrations.

"I'm enormously pleased on the progress we have made on this enormously difficult issue," said Secretary of State Colin Powell of the arduous immigration negotiations. "But we've got to do it right, not do it fast. We're getting ready to move from (discussions) of principles to the specifics and how such a program should be designed."

Meeting with reporters outside the State Department, Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaņeda echoed Powell's sentiments after both countries' Cabinet-level officials negotiated on an array of complex issues. They expect to give reports to Bush and Fox today, according to Powell.

"Migration has to be dealt as a package deal, an integrated solution," Castaņeda said. "It's such a complex, delicate, long-standing and politically
touchy issue in both countries; it's not all or nothing . . . We have to do it slowly, we have to do it right. Touch all facets."

Castaņeda reiterated Fox's prediction this week that an overhaul of immigration policies may not be completed until the end of Bush's term in office or later.

"It's an issue that may take four years or maybe the full six years of the Fox administration," Castaņeda said, noting that Fox cannot seek re-election under Mexican law. Fox plans to finish "dealing with the whole plethora of issues related to immigration" by the end of his term, he said.

Since February, when they held their first meeting as presidents at Fox's ranch at San Cristobal, Guanajuato, Bush and Fox have been working on plans for a new temporary guest-worker program in the United States that could lead to the legalization of more than 3 million undocumented Mexicans.

The plan has galvanized hopes of Mexican immigrant advocates, prompted criticism from conservatives in Congress and frustrated millions of illegal
immigrants from other countries, such as El Salvador and Haiti, who are not yet being considered for legalization. In recent weeks, the White House
acknowledged it may take months to complete the ambitious reform plan, citing the complicated issues and opposition from conservatives in Congress.
Bush has insisted he opposes amnesty, though some critics describe the guest-worker proposal as "dressed-up amnesty."

Today, both presidents are scheduled to review a "framework" for carrying out immigration reform to ensure that immigrants are "welcomed to this
country in a legal, humane and safe manner," White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

During a brief meeting with reporters yesterday, Bush described Fox's visit as a "great beginning for a relationship that will continue to evolve over time."

Since Fox's election last year, ending 71 years of rule by Mexico's Institutional Revolutionary Party, the Mexican president has been trying to stem the flow of illegal immigrants across the border. He has found a
responsive chord in a quickly developing friendship with Bush, a fellow former governor. Both also are ranchers.

Both presidents face resistance in their own countries to the immigration plan.

Some in Congress hope to persuade Fox and Bush to hasten their work on the plan.

"We will let President Fox know that, while a well-crafted temporary worker proposal may be complicated and may take more time, there are steps that
can be taken this year to adopt an effective plan," said Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, chairman of the House Congressional Hispanic Caucus.

Yesterday, U.S. and Mexican officials working as the Binational Commission said they were making progress on other issues, including drug-fighting efforts and trade.

Castaņeda said Mexican officials are "particularly pleased" that the U.S. Congress is considering a bill to suspend this country's annual drug-certification process, which has been strongly criticized in Mexico.

Fleischer said more law-enforcement initiatives may be announced as Bush officials press Fox to continue reducing corruption in Mexican law enforcement, fight money laundering, and start extraditing top-level criminals to the United States.

In other developments, officials announced a series of agreements yesterday: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Agriculture Department
will conduct joint investigations with Mexican officials to combat the spread of food-borne illnesses.

"This agreement marks a very important new era in the food-safety efforts of both our countries," said U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.

A memorandum of understanding would enable the countries to share assets seized from criminal organizations.

U.S. and Mexican consular offices along the border plan to meet more regularly to improve safety for border crossers.

Mexican authorities and officials of the U.S. Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development will work for better education and housing along the border.

Negotiators also have made "important headway" in disputes over trade in avocados and sugar and environmental protection, Castaņeda said.

This morning, Bush plans to greet Fox at the White House. The two presidents are scheduled to talk privately in the Oval Office. Then the Cabinets of both countries will meet in an unusual joint session to present findings of yesterday's Binational Commission meeting to the chief executives.

In the evening, Bush will hold a state dinner in Fox's honor. It is Bush's first state dinner since taking office eight months ago, another sign of the importance he attaches to his relationship with Fox.

Tomorrow, Fox is scheduled to address a joint meeting of Congress, and then he and Bush will fly together to Toledo, Ohio, a city where the Latino presence is growing. It is from Ohio that Fox's Irish-American grandfather traveled to Mexico.

When they return to Washington, Fox plans to host a dinner for Bush and his wife at Blair House, where Fox is staying. On Friday, Fox plans to have
breakfast with members of Congress and then meet with several Washington think tanks. He will fly to Miami before returning to Mexico.