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As Fox’s U.S. Visit Nears, Migrant Deal Still Far Away

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TIMES STAFF WRITER

The White House acknowledged Friday that the drive by President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox to help illegal immigrant workers in the United States acquire legal status has made little progress and will not be ready when the two leaders meet here next week.

Thus only a “series of principles” and a “framework” on immigration reform will be issued during Fox’s visit, White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer said.

“The issue of immigration is . . . very complicated,” he said. “It also involves some thoughts by members of Congress. And the president is going to continue, even after President Fox departs, to work on this issue, so that immigrants can be welcomed to America in a way that is legal, safe and humane.”

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The effort to help illegal immigrants was launched in February at the leaders’ first summit, held in San Cristobal, Mexico.

In the first White House briefing in nearly a month, Fleischer also described the president’s autumn agenda, saying Bush intends to “focus like a laser beam on the economy, education, opportunity and security this fall--security meaning retirement security, health security and, of course, national security.” He also intends to work with Congress on assorted pending legislation, including education reform, a patients’ bill of rights and Bush’s faith-based initiative.

The president returned to the White House on Thursday after a 26-day working vacation at his ranch near Crawford, Texas. On Friday, he left for a weekend at Camp David in Maryland.

In February, Bush and Fox created a bilateral task force to expand a guest worker program and explore ways to “regularize” the status of the 3 million to 4 million illegal Mexican workers believed to be in the U.S. The two presidents had hoped that a breakthrough agreement could be reached--and announced--next week.

Bush told reporters Friday that he was not disappointed by the lack of an accord.

“What you’ll see is that our administrations, mine and that of Vicente Fox, have--are cooperating better than any administrations in the past on a wide range of issues,” he said. “And I’m very pleased with the progress we’re making.”

Fleischer said there is “universal agreement on both sides of the Rio Grande and throughout the United States government that it’s important to do this right.” He added, however, that there is “no hard and fast date” for agreement on the matter.

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“The president does not want to create a program that has incentives for people to come to the United States illegally,” Fleischer said. “The president wants to make certain that we have programs that are realistic and that honor the law. At the same time, he wants to make certain that people don’t lose their lives trying to come to America.”

On drug interdiction efforts, Fleischer said Bush is “highly praiseworthy” of Fox’s efforts to fight organized crime and reduce drug trafficking.

“The level of cooperation between United States agencies and Mexican agencies, which in the past has been strained, is now growing,” Fleischer said. “There is an increased confidence between American officials and Mexican officials as we work together.”

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