WASHINGTON -- Immigration reform may be too complex to complete by year's end, President Bush said Thursday in response to the plea of visiting Mexican President Vicente Fox. Undaunted, Fox told Americans "we need your trust" to swiftly legalize millions of undocumented immigrants.
Seeking to ease decades of cross-boarder suspicion, Fox addressed a joint meeting of Congress and then flew with Bush aboard Air Force One to address Hispanic voters in Toledo, Ohio.
"The time has come for Mexico and the United States to trust each other," Fox said.
Bush embraced the Mexican's wish to soften U.S. immigration laws, but not his goal to complete the work by year's end.
"This is an incredibly complex issue," the president said. One challenge will be to legalize undocumented immigrants without being unfair to people who have been following the rules and going through sluggish legal channels, he said.
"To make matters even more complicated, we've got to work with the Congress," Bush said, knowing conservatives in his own Republican Party have led the fight against amnesty. "We've got to come up with a solution that Congress can accept."
Administration officials said Bush was signaling to Fox -- as he did in private meetings -- that striking an immigration deal probably will take more than the four months remaining in 2001.
Even so, Bush made sure Fox did not go home empty handed from a 62-hour trip designed to silence critics who claim the Mexican president has not lived up to his promise. In a joint news conference before their trip Bush:
Promised to veto a transportation spending bill unless Congress drops new safety standards for Mexican trucks using U.S. roads.
Urged lawmakers to suspend a program requiring Mexico to get annual certification that it has cooperated in the war against drugs.
Tried to shield Fox from blame over a sagging Mexican economy, noting that U.S. financial prospects affect other nations. The president said, "He's getting blamed for something that's taking place in America."
Fox also got a ride aboard Marine One, the helicopter that was parked on the South Lawn to sweep the leaders away to Air Force One and Ohio.
U.S. presidents rarely travel with their counterparts, but Bush wanted to put on a good show for Fox, his countrymen and Hispanic voters in America -- the fastest growing voting bloc.
Bush won Ohio during last year's presidential election, but Democrat Al Gore won Toledo, where Hispanics make up 5.5 percent of the population. Nationwide, Hispanics make up 12.5 percent of the population, a 60 percent increase in a decade.
Framed by oversized U.S. and Mexican flags, Bush called Fox "mi amigo" and "special visitor." Fox told the Toledo crowd that Americans need not be afraid of eased immigration.
"I wanted to tell my paisanos in this part of the United States, that my friend, President Bush, and myself will work, not only for your cause, but also for the cause of the United States and the cause of Mexico," Fox said.
Standing before Congress hours earlier, Fox said worries in the U.S. and Mexico are deeply rooted in mistrust by people of both countries.
"In Mexico, they derive from a long-held sense of suspicion and apprehension about its powerful neighbor," Fox said. "And in the United States, they stem from previous experience with a political regime governing Mexico, which for the most part was regarded as undemocratic and untrustworthy."
He was referring to the long-ruling party Fox threw out of office with his election victory last year.
Fox used the word trust or a variation of it 32 times -- more than once every minute -- in his speech to Congress, and two more times during the brief news conference.
Bush was nearly as liberal with the word complex, using it five times to describe immigration reform. His efforts to play down the potential for quick success were striking, given how optimistic Bush sounded about amnesty programs before conservatives raised a fuss.
Still, Bush said there was "a sense of urgency" about the issue and he pledged to tackle it as soon as possible, not ruling out an agreement by year's end.
"We're trying to work through a formula that will not penalize the person who has chosen the legal route, and at the same time recognizes the contribution the undocumented (immigrant) has made," he said.
Fox pledged to bring Mexico "up to date on all fronts," making it a worthy partner of the United States. Americans, in turn, must give Mexico the respect it is due, Fox said.
Speaking mostly in English but sometimes in Spanish, Fox personalized the immigration fight by reminding Americans that many of their parents and grandparents came from other countries.
Fox's speech won praise from Democratic and Republican lawmakers. "For him to say, we are changing, this is an opportunity, trust us, I'm willing to do that," said Senate Minority Leader Treat Lott.