Panel Proposes Guest-Worker Program

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Byline: Jerry Seper

A Cabinet-level panel recommended to the White House yesterday a "guest-worker" program that could allow some of the 3 million Mexicans now living illegally in the United States to gain permanent resident status.

The proposal by the commission, headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, is less generous than one previously under review that would have granted legal status to all undocumented Mexicans.

"The recommendation is to consider a new temporary guest-worker program that would allow for some of the workers to gain permanent resident status over a period of time," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We are continuing to work with Mexico toward our shared goal of a more orderly, humane and safe migration. No decisions have been taken."

Earlier this year, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox began a series of discussions on how best to reduce illegal immigration between the U.S. and Mexico. The discussions included talks on the granting of amnesty to millions of Mexicans now illegally in this country.

The talks also included ideas on how to reduce violence along the 2,017-mile U.S.-Mexico border, where more than 1.5 million Mexicans are arrested every year trying to cross illegally. Last year more than 300 died, mostly from thirst and heat exhaustion.

The amnesty plan was among a package of proposals being developed by top U.S. and Mexican officials to deal with the immigration problem, although the panel headed by Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Powell focused on the guest-worker program, which would give legal status and a measure of protection to seasonal Mexican workers who routinely move across the border to harvest U.S. crops.

The guest-worker proposal was sent to the White House on Friday, and eventually could lead to permanent legal status for as many as 2 million of the 3 million Mexicans now in this country illegally, although no specific number was included in the panel's report to the White House.

Mr. Bush's domestic policy and national security advisers are reviewing the proposal, with a final recommendation expected by September.

Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), yesterday called on the Bush administration to reject the guest-worker program.

"There is nothing in the plan being discussed that offers the American public any hope that the problem of illegal immigration will be dealt with in any meaningful way," he said. …