Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Plan to Legalize Illegal Workers from Mexico ; Five US Senators Are Working on a 'Guest Worker' Program. Bush Will Go to Mexico on Feb. 16

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A New Plan to Legalize Illegal Workers from Mexico ; Five US Senators Are Working on a 'Guest Worker' Program. Bush Will Go to Mexico on Feb. 16

Article excerpt

For decades, Mexicans have been going north illegally to pick tomatoes, wash dishes and clean houses. Now a group of US lawmakers says it's time to make it legal.

With the number of Mexican illegal laborers now estimated to be between 3 and 7 million, the five US senators want to make changes that would give the Mexicans the legal status of "guest workers."

"We want to set up a workable guest-worker program so people can come into America legally to work, have their rights protected, and accumulate human and financial capital to take back to Mexico," says Sen. Phil Gramm (R.) of Texas.

Yet, though US and Mexican officials say such a program will draw support from both countries' presidents, immigration experts caution that a worker program is unlikely to reverse a long tradition of undocumented northward migration. Enforcement is seen as one of the difficulties, along with the challenge of convincing Mexicans that they will be better off applying under the new program than following the traditional path across the border.

The plan would benefit both the US and Mexico, the senators argue: Labor-intensive US industries like agriculture and construction would have a reliable source of workers, while the workers would have salary, labor-condition, and other rights that as illegals they cannot demand.

Given the option of working in the US legally, Mexicans would be less likely to migrate illegally, says Sen. Gramm, who hopes to have the program operative within a year. The program would first apply to legal workers already in the US. It would not include the possibility of US citizenship, since one goal of the program is to encourage Mexicans to take their savings and new skills back to Mexico.

Also backing the initiative are Pete Domenici (R.) of New Mexico, Zell Miller (D.) of Georgia, Jim Bunning (R.) of Kentucky, and Mike Crapo (R.) of Idaho, who traveled with Gramm to Mexico earlier this month to meet with President Vicente Fox.

President Bush is set to travel to Mexico Feb. 16 for talks with Mr. Fox, and immigration will be among topics on the agenda.

The senators' initiative follows a year in which economic players in the US as varied as the AFL-CIO and Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan called for measures to ease regulations on foreigners seeking to work legally in the US.

Analysts on both sides of the border say, however, that a guest- worker program is unlikely to be effective on a large scale. Guest- worker programs and illegal migrant amnesties usually just make migration more attractive, says Sidney Weintraub of the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

An expert in US-Mexico relations, Mr. …

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