Page last updated at 10:25 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 11:25 UK

McCain urges more border security

The rector of the Basilica de Guadalupe Diego Monroy (left) explains the icon's significance to Mr McCain and his wife Cindy
Mr McCain visits Mexico's most revered icon, the Virgin of Guadalupe

Republican presidential hopeful John McCain has said US immigration laws should only be reformed after security is tightened on the Mexican border.

Senator McCain was speaking during a visit to Mexico, where he reiterated his support for free trade.

His Democratic rival in November's poll, Barack Obama, has said he would renegotiate Nafta, the free trade deal between the US, Canada and Mexico.

Mr McCain arrived in Mexico after spending two days in Colombia.

His day in Mexico began with a visit to the Basilica de Guadalupe, home to Mexico's holiest Roman Catholic site.

The basilica houses the 16th Century icon of Our Lady of Guadalupe, a picture depicting a brown-skinned Virgin Mary.

The symbolism of his visit could not be overlooked as Mr McCain vies with Mr Obama to win over Roman Catholic and Hispanic voters in the US, correspondents say.

15% of US population
9% of 2008 electorate, though not all will vote
57% of voters support or lean to Democrats
23% aligned with Republicans
Sizeable share of electorate in states set to be closely contested - New Mexico, Florida, Nevada, Colorado
Source: Pew Hispanic Center 2007 report

Regarding policy, illegal immigration is set to be one of the key issues in the presidential campaign.

Mr McCain was the co-author of a comprehensive reform of US immigration laws that stalled in the US Congress last year.

Speaking in Mexico City, Mr McCain repeated his support for allowing more immigrant workers to enter the US.

But he warned that any reform must come after boosting security along the Mexican border.

"We must have comprehensive immigration reform but the American people want our borders secure first," he told reporters.

Immigration, drug-trafficking and trade were the focus of his talks with Mexican President Felipe Calderon, after which Mr McCain sought to highlight the differences between himself and Senator Obama on trade.

"I am disappointed at the suggestion that the United States should unilaterally reopen Nafta," Mr McCain said.

"If there are issues that exist between our countries, whether it be in the United States, Canada and Mexico, or other nations with whom we have engaged and ratified solemn treats, the best way to do that is not in a unilateral fashion."

Mr Obama has argued that the benefits of Nafta were oversold to the American people and has said that he would work with the leaders of Canada and Mexico to fix Nafta "so that it works for American workers".

Free trade has become a key issue in the presidential campaign and in the battle for control of Congress, against a backdrop of economic woes and job losses in the US.

Mr McCain arrived in Mexico after a two-day visit to Colombia where he urged the US Congress to pass a long-stalled free trade deal with Bogota.

Electoral College votes

Winning post 270
Obama - Democrat
McCain - Republican
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Winston-Salem Journal McCain extols virtues of free trade on visit to Colombia - 3 hrs ago
CNN Spree Killer Arrested in Illinois; John McCain Talks Free Trade in Colombia; Starbucks to Close Underperforming Stores; Cyber Cheating is a New Ground for Divorce; Critics Call New Swim Suit Technological Doping; Oil Prices Up Again This Morning - 3 hrs ago
USA Today McCain to view Colombian anti-drug efforts - 4 hrs ago
New York Times Improve Human Rights, McCain Tells Colombian - 5 hrs ago
MSNBC Republican John McCain planned to tour a Colombian port by boat Wednesday to see the country's drug interdiction programs. - 8 hrs ago

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