While hosting Mexican President Vicente Fox at the White House Wednesday, President Bush could not have been more blunt. "The United States," he said, "has no more important relationship in the world than the one we have with Mexico." Congress would be well advised to heed that assessment today as it listens to Fox's joint-session address. Mexico matters. It matters to U.S. foreign policy, as Bush made clear, and it matters to any politician who yearns for a share of this nation's Latino vote (as Bush well knows).
As Fox well knows, most of the issues on the two nations' sweeping agenda will not be settled by presidents alone. On such critical matters as immigration policy, it takes three to tango. Bush will have to negotiate with Congress on the feasibility of a guest worker program or the legalization of Mexicans already working in the United States.
That's why it's important that moderates in both houses and on both sides of the aisle listen carefully as Fox lays out his ideas for a relationship based on increased trust. Republicans might try to understand why he embraces the idea of "earned" legalization for Mexicans who have lived here for a specified time, have a job and have not broken any laws other than entering the country without proper documentation. Democrats need to grapple with his pitch for a guest worker program that fulfills the needs of business while guaranteeing workers' rights.
Anyone who's inclined to snooze as Fox speaks might remind himself of the momentum the two presidents have already achieved on such thorny problems as drug trafficking. Under Fox, Mexico is extraditing more drug smugglers than ever before. And with American help, Mexico is creating a new breed of investigator whom it promises to shield from corruption.
There's much more to be done. If Congress can grasp what Bush already knows, progress is in store for both countries.