Bush strikes border deal with Mexico to woo Hispanic voters

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The Independent US

The US has made a concession to Mexico on immigration, agreeing to exempt millions of short-term visitors from the country from the strict new security checks imposed at its borders in the wake of the 11 September attacks.

Under the arrangements, announced by Vicente Fox, the Mexican President, after a weekend summit with President George Bush at his Texas ranch, Mexicans with border passes allowing them to spend up to 72 hours in the US will not have to be fingerprinted and photographed before entering.

The checks had strained relations between the countries, already hampered by differences over the death penalty and by Mexico's refusal to support the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Mr Fox had complained the new immigration rules applied to Mexico, but not to Canada, even though all three countries are equal members of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Originally scheduled for August 2002, the Mexican President's overnight stay at the Crawford ranch was meant to symbolise a return to normal. Even so there was little of the back-slapping friendliness evident between the men in 2001, when Mr Bush first promised to tackle the immigration issues.

Mexicans account for up to 75 per cent of the estimated eight million illegal immigrants in the US. This clandestine labour flow is a vital safety valve for unemployment in Mexico, while the immigrants' remittances are a precious source of income for families left behind.

But prospects are dim for Mr Bush's plan, announced in January, to give temporary visas to illegal immigrants. The proposal has upset many conservative Republicans, as well as Democrats, on Capitol Hill, and Congress has shown scant sign of taking up the issue.

Mr Bush's new overtures to Mexico are widely seen as an attempt to win over Hispanic voters, who could play a pivotal role in elections this autumn in states such as New Mexico, Arizona and California. They are the fastest growing component of the US electorate.

White House officials said that many details of the deal still needed to be worked out.