MERIDA, Mexico – President Bush, seeking to rebuild ties with Mexico, pledged Wednesday to intensify efforts to overhaul U.S. immigration laws and crack down on illegal drug trafficking.
Bush said that he senses there has been a change of attitudes in Congress about updating immigration laws, from skepticism last year to recognition now that changes are in U.S. interests.
"I will work with Congress, members of both political parties, to pass immigration law that will enable us to respect the rule of law -- and at the same time, respect humanity," Bush said in a news conference with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.
Bush, facing a huge fight within his own party for his immigration plan, called it an important but sensitive issue.
"I say important because a good migration law will help both economies and will help the security of both countries," Bush said. "If people can come into our country, for example, on a temporary basis to work, doing jobs Americans aren't doing, they won't have to sneak across the border."
The meeting with Calderon capped a seven-day trip through five countries in Latin America. While Bush sought to shore up relations with Latin America and showcase U.S. compassion, he was shadowed by protests and taunts by leftist President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Chavez has accused Bush of turning his back on the region.
As he has throughout the trip, Bush shrugged off a question about Chavez and would not use name.
"Our conversations focused on democracy and the rule of law and prosperity," Bush said after meeting with Calderon.
Calderon -- a fierce critic of plans for new U.S. fencing along the Mexican border -- said his neighbor to the north must take other steps to ensure orderly migration. He thanked Bush for pressing Congress on the matter.
"We have seen the political will in order to reach shared goals," Calderon said.
Bush said he's optimistic that an immigration bill would get through Congress this year. His plans calls for a guest worker program and a path to citizenship for immigrants, but critics are wary that will amount to amnesty for illegal residents.
Bush praised Calderon for his tough stand on organized crime and drugs, and said the United States has a responsibility to reduce its demand for narcotics. Bush also said he would fight efforts to erode the trade relationship with Mexico.
"When Mexico grows, the United States benefits," Bush said.
"There are strong protectionist sentiments in the United States," Bush said. "I will work, Mr. President to reject those protectionist sentiments."