George W. Bush photo

Interview With Lourdes Meluza of Univision

March 20, 2002

Visit to Latin America

Ms. Meluza. Some countries in Latin America feel that after 9/11, the region has been relegated—or has lost its priority that you have so clearly stated in the past. Do you plan with this trip to reinsert the region in your priorities, in your agenda? And if so, what are the substantive issues to prove it?

The President. Sure. First of all, the trip will give me a chance to say again that the best foreign policy for America is to have a peaceful, democratic, and prosperous neighborhood.

Secondly—and it should be noted that my first stop is to Mexico. Obviously, there's the development conference, which is an important conference. That, in itself, will help me talk about how we've committed a lot of money to helping alleviate world poverty. And there's poverty in our neighborhood.

It will also give me a chance to have a bilateral meeting with my friend Vicente Fox to talk about the importance of Mexican-U.S. relations. That relationship has not diminished. I mean, that relationship is as strong as ever. We've got huge amounts of trade going back and forth, a lot of people going back and forth, and we're going to talk about initiatives that make the border policy more productive, better, more efficient, and at the same time protect both our countries from terrorist threats.

My trip to Peru will give me a chance to talk about the Andean Trade Preference Act. I want to—that needs to be passed by the United States Congress, and it needs to be passed quickly. This will give me a chance to, on the one hand, say to our friends there, not only Toledo but to the leaders, that I want the Andean Trade Preference Act; I'm committed to it; I will fight for it; and then at the same time send a message to Congress.

Y por fin, El Salvador is a Central American country, and again it will give me a chance to talk about the importance of that region.

Don't worry, we've got plenty of time.

Temporary Protected Status

Ms. Meluza. Will you offer, sir, TPS, temporary protective status, which Central American regions, nations are looking for?

The President. Right, they are. In terms of the El Salvadoran TPS status, I was a strong supporter of it in the past. It doesn't come up until September of this year. I think it's important for me to withhold judgment until we are close to the date, but I—let me just put it this way: I was a supporter in the past, a vocal supporter of TPS status, and I will express my opinion at the appropriate time.

Mexico-U.S. Border Policy

Ms. Meluza. Sir, you will visit the border tomorrow, El Paso. Do you believe that consolidating the agencies that handle the border will strengthen the security in the border? And will you send a recommendation to Congress?

The President. I'm studying different options. But here's what I want to achieve: A border that recognizes how much traffic there is, normal traffic—a border that recognizes we've got trucks and cars moving goods and services throughout both our countries and a border policy that recognizes there are hundreds of people going back and forth on a daily basis who have done this for years on years, brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, on both sides of la frontera; and on the other hand, that we've got to work with our Mexican friends to make sure the border has got the best infrastructure, the best technology, the best intelligence sharing to make sure that we stop the "coyotes," the smugglers, and the terrorists. And we can do both.

But the border policy needs to be reviewed. And if it is achieved, if it's better achieved by a new construct, then I'll support it. And I just want to make sure that I get all the facts before I make my decision.

Immigration Policy

Ms. Meluza. Sir, in the past, immigration had a high priority on your agenda with Mexico. When you sit down with President Fox this time, will you bring back again meaningful conversations about immigration policy, a wide immigration policy? And will you jump-start again these negotiations?

The President. Si, por cierto. I mean, immigration's a big issue. It's a big issue for Mexico; it's a big issue for the United States. And we're starting with what we call 245(i), which is needed. And I want to remind people that we can't get it out of the Senate. I've spoken out on it very clearly; I did so again yesterday; I did the day before. I worked with the House to get it out. And people say, "Well, that's not enough. We need to continue a dialog." But it's a start. And so I would hope the advocates here in Washington, DC, will be up there lobbying the United States Senate, so we can actually get something done.

Secondly—it's very important—I still believe we need a policy that recognizes there are employers willing to employ people from Mexico, for example, and there are willing workers who are looking for jobs. And we've got to recognize that as reality and make that work.

Ms. Meluza. So when you talk about willing workers and willing employees—employers, do you mean to say that some here in the States will benefit from this policy again?

The President. Yes——

Ms. Meluza. Not only a temporary workers program?

The President. Well, we'll see. I mean, that needs to be discussed. But all I can tell you is, the basic premise of good policy is to say there are employers in the United States who are looking for somebody to work, and there are people from Mexico who are willing to do the job. And our legal system and our immigration system ought to recognize that important relationship and make it work.

Ms. Meluza. Even those who are here now?

The President. That's very much of a possibility, of course. I mean, obviously, they're here doing a job that somebody wants them to do. But there's got to be the matching of the willing employer and willing employee. And if they're here now, fine. They ought to be discussed, and they ought to be a part of the mix, of course.

Ms. Meluza. I think that my time is up. Thank you very much, sir.

The President. Thank you. Good job.

Ms. Meluza. Thank you very much, sir. Lots of pressure.

The President. You look great in red.

NOTE: The interview began at 11:01 a.m. in the Map Room at the White House. In his remarks, the President referred to President Vicente Fox of Mexico; and President Alejandro Toledo of Peru. He also referred to section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which expired April 30, 2001. A tape was not available for verification of the content of this interview.

George W. Bush, Interview With Lourdes Meluza of Univision Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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