George W. Bush, US president, on Friday expressed optimism that Congress would approve a “comprehensive” bill to reform the country’s immigration laws, including a guest-worker programme to legalise the status of illegal immigrants.

“It is important to bring people out of the shadows of American society,” he said at the end of a two-day summit in Mexico with President Vicente Fox and Stephen Harper, Canada’s newly elected prime minister.

Mr Bush said he would “look forward to working with Congress” on the issue of immigration but also suggested that it would not necessarily be either easy or quick. “It is a little like watching people make sausage. It probably looks a little unpleasant,” he said.

On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent to the full Senate the most sweeping proposal in years to legalise the status of an estimated 11m undocumented foreign workers in the US.

The proposal, which includes tighter security along the US’s 2,000-mile border with Mexico as well as a guest-worker programme that would allow about 400,000 foreigners to work in the US a year, has already sparked an angry response among some members of Mr Bush’s Republican party.

Whatever eventually emerges from the Senate will have to be reconciled with legislation over border security that was passed by the House of Representatives in December. The legislation provoked the ire of Mexico because it involves, among other things, building a fence along large stretches of the border as well as punishing with prison those who work illegally in the US.

At the summit, where the three leaders also touched on issues of trade, energy and regional competitiveness in the context of the emergence of China and India, Mr Bush said he expected the debate “to bring dignity to America”, and to be one that “does not pit neighbour against neighbour”.

He also said the bill should hinge on two additional elements to his preference for a guest-worker programme. One was to toughen laws within the US on the hiring of undocumented workers. “Employers must be held to account if they are employing people illegally,” he said.

The second was enforcing border security. “I don’t see how you can be prosperous if you don’t have security.”

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