Republican presidential candidate John McCain said Friday during a central Iowa campaign stop that Mexico's new President Felipe Calderon will help the United States protect its southern border.
"He is committed to enforcing the border, he is committed to cleaning up some of the corruption down there," McCain said during an event in downtown Des Moines. "I'm optimistic that we'll get a lot more cooperation in the future out of the Mexican government."
However, McCain wonders just how much can be done.
"Has the corruption and the drugs become so bad that any government in Mexico can control it?" he said. "I have to believe they can, but it's going to be very, very tough."
The timing of his praise for Calderon, who is gaining popularity in Mexico as he battles drug cartels, comes as lawmakers in Washington sort out new legislation on illegal immigration.
McCain has been criticized by some fellow Republicans for supporting President Bush's immigration plan, which they argue offers amnesty to illegal immigrants. Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have questioned the proposal, but the Arizona senator defends the measure.
"There's room for additional compromise, but I think the principles ... are there," he said.
He admitted that the coalition supporting the move is "pretty fragile," and said he'll know more about the plan's fate after lawmakers hear from constituents.
"By the middle of next week we'll have a very good handle as to whether it's going to succeed or not," he said.
The president's plan, which includes a temporary worker program, calls for opening a potential path to citizenship for the 12 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally. Supporters say it would help to tighten border security.