Bush waives policy for Mexican visitors

Fox praises move to ease fingerprinting rules for visa carriers to U.S.

March 07, 2004|By Bob Kemper | Bob Kemper,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

CRAWFORD, Texas - After meeting privately yesterday with President Bush, Mexican President Vicente Fox praised his decision to stop requiring regular visitors from Mexico to be fingerprinted and photographed before being granted entry to the United States.

"We welcome the news that was confirmed today with regard to visitors to the U.S. from Mexico," Fox said during a joint appearance with Bush at the president's ranch. "We recognize the value to those who come the United States to work, to study, to contribute."

But questions were immediately raised about the status of the proposed changes, including when they would be implemented, after Bush failed to mention the changes in remarks he prepared for his appearance with Fox.

Moreover, Bush for the first time expressed doubts about whether Congress would approve the more sweeping immigration reforms he proposed two months ago as a way of reviving relations with Mexico.

Fox took the lead in announcing that he and Bush had discussed abolishing the fingerprinting and photograph requirements, which amount to a significant softening of the administration's border security policy. Bush addressed the matter by saying, "We're making progress."

White House aides later said that Bush wants to abolish the fingerprinting and photograph requirements for Mexicans who hold laser visas, which allow stays of up to three days within 25 to 75 miles of the border. But they said Bush was not yet prepared to implement those changes.

"The president is committed to doing this," National Security Council spokesman Sean McCormack said. "We're working out the final details."

McCormack did not say what those details included. Nor did he offer a time frame for resolving them.

Sen. John Kerry, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, who was campaigning in Texas this weekend, accused Bush of playing politics with immigration reform and other issues important to Hispanics.

"Latinos can tell it's an election year because George W. Bush is finally paying attention to them," Kerry said. "Latinos are right to ask why George Bush only remembers his promises to them every four years."

Fox and Bush stood in the open fields of Prairie Chapel Ranch during their only public appearance of the overnight visit.

Their relationship, so strong when they both first took office three years ago, has cooled considerably over time with their inability to improve Mexican immigration.

But Fox, in the joint appearance, reached for one promising advance on the issue, saying he was pleased that the U.S. lifted the cap on the number of so-called NAFTA visas that can be issued to Mexican and American professionals, allowing them to work in both countries.

The Department of Homeland Security lifted that restriction two months ago, administration officials said.

Bush talked at length about the immigration reforms he proposed in January that would allow illegal immigrants to obtain visas and work legally in the United States for at least three years. Legal immigrants would be allowed to travel between their homes in Mexico and temporary jobs in the United States.

Bush regularly calls on Congress to approve the reforms in his stump speeches around the country, but yesterday he acknowledged for the first time that the Republican-controlled Congress might not comply.

"I certainly hope the Congress takes this issue up," Bush said. "But there's no telling what's going to happen in an election year."

The Chicago Tribune is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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