Obama: Immigration reform can help trade with Mexico

Achieving immigration reform will help facilitate the growing economic relationship the U.S. has with Mexico, President Obama said Thursday in Mexico City.

It is unwise "for us to get constantly bogged down on these border issues," Mr. Obama said in a press conference with Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, "instead of... making sure legal immigration and legal trade and commerce is facilitated."

Mr. Obama said he's "optimistic" immigration reform will be passed in the United States. "If we're going to get that done, now is the time to do it," he said.

The U.S. president stressed, however, that his three-day trip to Mexico and Costa Rica this week focuses on the critical economic ties between the two countries. The two leaders today confirmed their commitment to concluding negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam. They also established ways in which they can broaden the bilateral economic partnership between the U.S. and Mexico.

Additionally, the two leaders announced the formation of a bilateral formation on higher education, innovation and research. They also made commitments on energy security and international relations.

"As Mexico works to become more competitive, you've got a strong partner in the United States because our success is shared," Mr. Obama said, noting that annual trade between the two countries has surpassed $500 billion. Mexico is the second-largest market for U.S. exports, and the U.S. is Mexico's largest customer.

The U.S. has an opportunity to boost Mexico's role on the world stage -- which would, in turn, benefit the U.S. -- and Mr. Obama commended Pena Nieto for pursuing reforms in areas like energy and labor law.

"What I have been impressed with is the president's boldness in his reform agenda," he said. "He's tackling big issues, and that's what the times demand. We live in a world that's changing rapidly... We can't be flat-footed as the world advances."

Mr. Obama also said that when it comes to criminal and drug-related security issues in Mexico, he supports Pena Nieto's focus on reducing violence. Mr. Obama promised "strong cooperation" from the U.S. as Mexico pursues that goal and said the U.S. will work to "meet our responsibilities to reduce the demand for illegal drugs and reduce the Southbound flow of guns and cash."

The U.S. president also addressed comments made Thursday by U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, who said the U.S. is considering arming opposition forces in Syria in the wake of evidence that the Syrian regime may have used chemical weapons on its people.

Mr. Obama said that Hagel's remarks were "what I've been saying now for months."

"We are continually evaluating the situation on the ground, working with our international partners," he said, in an effort to end Syrian President Bashar Assad's rule.

"We've made enormous investments not just in humanitarian aid but in helping the opposition organizing itself," he said. "As we've seen evidence of further bloodshed, potential use of chemical weapons inside of Syria, we're going to look at all options... We want to make sure we look before we leap and what we're doing is actually helpful."

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