WASHINGTON – President Bush, in an Oval Office meeting Tuesday with Salvadoran President Tony Saca, pushed for immigration reform and nudged Congress to pass a guest worker program that would allow immigrants to seek temporary work visas.
Bush, who is traveling to Latin America next week, said Saca reminded him that Temporary Protected Status, extended to many Salvadorans, expires in September.
"Every time he comes to the Oval Office he's expressed his deep concern and strong support for his citizens that may be here in our country, and I assured him that I was open-minded to his request, but more importantly, I'm working hard to get a comprehensive bill, immigration bill, passed out of the United States Congress," Bush told reporters.
Saca said there are more than 2 million Salvadorans living in the United States, the majority of them legal citizens. Temporary Protected Status is granted to people from countries where armed conflict, natural disaster or other extraordinary conditions make it temporarily unsafe to return, but it doesn't lead to permanent residency.
"We will have to wait and see what happens between the executive and Congress," Saca said.
Bush pushed for more cooperation between the United States and El Salvador on biofuels made from corn, wood chips and other materials. He stressed the importance of the Central American Free Trade Agreement and expressed his sympathy about the deaths of three Salvadoran representatives to the Central American Parliament.
Oscar Berger, president of Guatemala, said Monday that gunmen stormed a Guatemalan prison and shot to death four jailed police officers in a mafia hit aimed at stopping investigators from finding out who ordered the slayings of the politicians. The four policemen were arrested in connection with the Feb. 19 slayings.
"I expressed my concerns and our condolences about the three gentlemen who were recently assassinated, which led us into a broad discussion about security and my desire to help the president deal with security issues," Bush said.
Bush is leaving next week on a weeklong trip to Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, Uruguay and Colombia — a trip that Saca said will signal the president's interest in Latin America.
Saca noted that the first anniversary of the CAFTA agreement is Thursday.
"During this year we have increased by 20 percent all our exports, and our economy has doubled in size," Saca said. "So there's no doubt that free trade has allowed this to become true."