WACO, Texas – Border security (search) and immigration will be among the prime topics of discussion when President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) finally get together for their off-again, on-again summit this weekend.
The two-years'-delayed visit to Bush's ranch is designed to soothe frayed relations between the North American neighbors. But it was expected to produce little new resolution to weighty disputes over migration, water, security and other matters.
Fox was due to arrive on Bush's 1,600-acre property in Crawford, Texas, late Friday afternoon, joining an elite club of world leaders who have enjoyed the same privilege. Because of the locale's importance to Bush personally, a ranch invitation has become among the highest honors he can bestow upon an ally.
The visits typically follow a nothing-fancy pattern: casual attire, relaxed encounters and low-key entertaining.
Bush and his wife, Laura, traditionally host an intimate dinner in their one-story ranch home Friday night. The president invariably makes time to show off, either on foot or in his white pickup truck, his favorite canyons and stream beds on the property. And there are meetings, followed by a joint appearance before reporters, lunch and the leader's departure.
At the top of Fox's agenda is making sure Bush continues to push his proposal to give temporary visas to illegal immigrants - most of them from Mexico - either working at a job in the United States or with the promise of one.
Bush brings up his plan in his public remarks most often when he is visiting a state with a large Hispanic population, reinforcing the criticism by some that the proposal was merely an election-year gambit aimed at attracting Hispanic voters in America. And with many conservatives in his own party balking at the plan, the Republican-controlled Congress has seemed unlikely to approve anything this year.
Still, the White House insists that congressional action on the proposal remains a priority. And Fox seems resigned that that is the best he may get for the year.
Fox also wants U.S. border policy to treat Mexican visitors the same as those from Canada. Now, Mexicans must have a visa to vacation and work in the United States, while restrictions on Canadians are much lighter.
Some progress could be near on a related front. U.S. officials say the administration is considering exempting certain visa-carrying Mexicans from new requirements that they fingerprinted and photographed before entering the country.
Under the new US-VISIT (search) program, visitors from certain countries must be fingerprinted and photographed before entering the United States. When the program is expanded later this year, it was to ensnare frequent Mexico-U.S. travelers with so-called laser visas.
Instead, the administration may back off of that plan, officials said. It was unclear when the decision would be made.
Bush and Fox also planned to examine ways to increase security along the border without delaying traffic and commerce. In that context, the Mexican leader was determined to impress upon his counterpart that his country has improved security and found no evidence terrorists were operating from the country.
The leaders also were likely to talk about a new U.S. plan to deport illegal immigrants to their hometowns instead of dropping them along the border. Mexico argues that forcing migrants back to their hometowns violates their rights, while U.S. officials say the policy would help discourage repeat attempts.
Other major topics were expected to be Mexico's water debt to the United States and the death penalty - the issue that did in Fox's earlier scheduled visit to Crawford.
Mexico has asked the World Court to investigate whether dozens of Mexicans on death row in the United States were denied their right to legal help from the Mexican government. The court ruled last year that the executions should be stayed until it issues a final decision, but U.S. courts have gone ahead and scheduled some executions.
The visit comes at a time when relations between the two leaders have gone from good to bad to better again.
Bush chose a stay at Fox's central Mexico ranch in February 2001 as his first trip abroad as president. Later that year, Fox was the much-applauded first recipient - on a still very-short list - of a state dinner at the Bush White House.
But Fox was stung that work on a migration plan was shelved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Then in August 2002, Fox canceled a visit to Bush's ranch to protest the Texas execution of police killer Javier Suarez Medina, whom Fox said was a Mexican national.
Mexico then refused to back Bush at the United Nations when he was looking for support for the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.