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Bush Favors Eased Legal Status

Immigration: President discusses issues in a phone chat with Mexican President Vicente Fox.


CRAWFORD, Texas — President Bush wants to make it easier for Mexicans to acquire legal status in the United States out of economic and humanitarian concerns, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said Wednesday.

"President Bush is very concerned about people who've lost their lives trying to find a better life coming to the United States," Fleischer told reporters.

"President Bush recognizes that there are many employers in many parts of our society that benefit from having immigrants come to the United States and work in this country. We are a richer nation for it."

Fleischer's comments came during his daily press briefing here, where Bush is on a monthlong "working vacation."

Earlier in the day, Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox spoke by telephone for about 20 minutes, covering topics ranging from the foundering economy in Argentina to Fox's state visit next month.

On immigration, Fleischer said, "they both agreed that it's very important and it'll be a welcome change in U.S.-Mexico relations to have a system in place that can welcome immigrants to the United States in a safer, a more legal and a more humane manner."

Fleischer declined to discuss specifics of the reform package, which is being developed by a joint U.S.-Mexico Cabinet-level task force. Bush has ruled out blanket amnesty, and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and U.S. officials close to the talks have indicated that they are focusing on the development of a broader program to allow Mexicans to work legally in the United States on a temporary basis.

"But the president does view immigration as a major strength for the United States, and, as a border governor, the president has seen the wonderful strength of immigrants to the United States," Fleischer said. "The Hispanic community has thrived in Texas. It's thrived in the United States."

Left unsaid was the growing importance of the Latino vote in coming elections. Most analysts believe that Bush must improve his standing among Latinos if he is to win reelection in 2004.

Aside from talking with Fox, Bush had his usual national security briefing and presided over a staff meeting Wednesday. He also lifted weights, Fleischer said.

The president is due back in Washington next Thursday.

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