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The White House, President George W. Bush

Dr. Rice Briefing on President's Trip to Mexico
The James S. Brady Briefing Room

12:53 P.M. EST

[ ... ]

Q The meeting with the President of Mexico, could you describe how you -- the state of relations between the President and President Fox now, after the strains over Iraq and tensions over immigration? Do you think that this is a meeting to repair relations?

DR. RICE: Oh, Terry, I think we're well past that. They've had a couple of very good conversations, including one just the other day. Obviously, we went through a difficult time about Iraq, but the relationship with Mexico is one of our most important, one of our closest. We are cooperating daily on border matters, on fighting narcotics, on fighting to make the borders more secure. We've just had an extraordinary period of cooperation in this period of heightened threat with Mexican officials. I think Tom Ridge meets very often with his Mexican counterpart.

And, of course, they will have an opportunity to talk about the President's immigration proposals for a temporary worker program, which I think fulfills many of the principles that they first enunciated when they first met here in Washington a couple of years ago. The President said then -- in fact, they had talked when they were both governors about the importance of recognizing the economic contribution of these people. The President believes that it is a proposal that makes economic sense for the United States and that is also humane.

So we have a big agenda with Mexico. Of course, NAFTA has been an organizing principle for not just the relationship with Mexico, but also a trilateral relationship with Canada and Mexico. And so we have a lot of work to do. The relations are good, and I expect the meeting to be as fulsome as their meetings have been in the past.

Q What can you tell us about the reception that the Mexicans have given to the immigration proposal? We know what you're saying about it. It was not clear to the extent to which they thought it was a workable solution and would meet their concerns, aside from the humanitarian aspect, which seems to be fairly apparent.

DR. RICE: What the President is doing with this proposal --and we all have to remember that there is -- most of this has to be worked out with the Congress. This is not something that the executive branch does by fiat. And the Congress will have views. There are lots of proposals on the Hill that people will be working with, and so we also have to work with Congress. But we do have to work with the Mexican government, as well, to make something like this work.

But the -- it is a very sound and feasible and reasonable proposal that finally addresses what has been a festering problem in the United States for a very long time. And the President comes to this, I think, with the understanding of a border governor, as governor of Texas, of how corrosive this kind of problem can be. He comes to it with an understanding that the American economy, in effect, has been helped by these people, and that if you can match willing workers with willing employers, that you are both doing a good thing for the employee, but also for the employer, because these are jobs that Americans have not been willing to take.

And, finally, with the Mexicans, the broader discussion always has to be about why people are risking life and limb in the way that they are to come to the United States. And that's why the progress made in something like NAFTA is so important, because, ultimately, these people who are clearly ambitious and want to feed their families ought to be able to feed their families in Mexico as that economy improves. And so the growth of the Mexican economy, the ability for Mexico to keep its own workers home, the ability for people to circulate in the meantime between the Mexican and American economies -- these are all things that I think they share in common. And so we've gotten good response from the Mexicans, and obviously, there's a lot to work on to make it work.

[ ... ]

Q There is criticism that the President's plan for temporary immigration aids employers more than workers, and that it's merely a means of deporting millions of foreign workers after three years. How do you think the Congress will deal with this plan?

DR. RICE: Well, first of all, remember that this is expected to be a status that is renewable; as long as you have a job, it would be renewable. We would fully expect that eventually people will want to go home. People tend to want to do that. The President has talked about letting people be able to keep some of their own money so that that can be a reality.

And I can't think of anything better for a worker who has worked under these circumstances, kind of in the shadows in the United States, to finally have a way to come out of the shadows, to have certain protections that are not there now because they're having to live in the shadows, to have recognized that they are an important part of a strong American economy, and to get that kind of status.

Now, the important thing about this is that it strikes an important balance, because there are some who talk about amnesty -- the President simply believes that an automatic path to citizenship out of illegal behavior is not appropriate, but to recognize these people's status, to give them a way to come out of the shadows, to give them a way to play a role in the American economy, and most importantly then, making a living for themselves, and the dignity -- of themselves and their families -- and then the dignity that goes with that, I think it's a great opportunity for the workers and, of course, it benefits the American economy, as well.

Q Dr. Rice, is one part of your agenda with President Fox talking about dealing with or preventing a rush of illegal immigration in anticipation of this opportunity? And, also, do you mind elaborating on what the President will ask other leaders to do, as far as fighting corruption? [ ... ]

Q And then on immigration and Mexico, do you anticipate that Mexico will take steps, itself, on its side of the border to improve border security and corruption while the U.S. is moving -- is there an anticipated level of change? Can you describe that?

DR. RICE: Yes. We will really need to have the Mexican government continue and increase its efforts in this area. And, you know, the Mexican government doesn't like to see people trying to cross the border illegally, particularly because, just in even humanitarian terms, the harshness of what faces these people when they try to walk across the Rio Grande, so to speak, is really, really awful. And it has been a problem that Mexico has identified.

We have increasing border cooperation. One of the advantages of some of the work that we've done really coming out of the September 11th period, post-September 11th period, is it has accelerated some of the ideas that were there for smart borders and for better technology on the borders which will help with some of the larger-scale problems, like some of the smuggling that goes on. It will by no means solve the problem on what is a huge border, but some of those efforts will even help. And, yes, we will, I think, need to have even better efforts on borders.

[ ... ]

END 1:23 P.M. EST



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