By Todd J. Gillman and Alfredo Corchado
The Dallas Morning News
MILWAUKEE July 18, 2001 Mexican President Vicente Fox insisted that the United States grant legal status to millions of undocumented workers, expanding his proposal for border reforms Tuesday while avoiding the politically charged term "amnesty."
Foremost, he said, he wants the "documentation and legalization" of Mexicans living without permission in the United States, to protect them from deportation, unscrupulous employers and the high cost and dangers of illegal border crossings.
"Consistent with U.S. history and traditions, there should be a clear and consistent path to legal residence for those migrants who want, and are otherwise eligible, to do so," Mr. Fox told the National Council of La Raza, the largest U.S. Hispanic advocacy group, drawing cheers from several thousand people.
The Bush administration didn't comment directly on Mr. Fox's remarks.
"The president has great respect for President Fox," deputy White House press secretary Scott McClellan said. "We're continuing to work toward our shared goal of more orderly, humane, legal and safe migration."
The White House, however, has been vexed by several media reports saying the administration first considered, and then backed away from, a plan to grant legal residency to millions of Mexicans living in the United States illegally.
Bush administration officials on Tuesday stressed that no policy decisions have been made.
"There was never a proposal," a Justice Department official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
A task force headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell has been looking at the possibility of a new guest-worker program and at whether to legalize the status of undocumented workers. Its report was expected Monday but has yet to be issued.
Members of the Fox team, speaking on condition of anonymity, said they don't view the White House as backing away from anything.
About 3 million Mexicans live in the United States who crossed the border illegally. The last formal U.S. amnesty program was adopted in 1986, and it allowed roughly that many undocumented immigrants of all nationalities to remain.
In Milwaukee, the La Raza audience cheered Mr. Fox's proposals wildly. From union leaders, Latino groups, advocates for migrant workers and immigrants themselves, Mr. Fox drew much praise when he called on the United States to "turn migration from a source of friction into shared responsibility that is mutually beneficial."
"He said it. He actually said the word legalization," said a jubilant Cecilia Muñoz, vice president of policy for La Raza and a key Capitol Hill lobbyist on immigration. "He's hit on something that is clearly a priority for Latinos here in the United States."
It's possible that policy changes will affect Mexican immigrants only. Mr. Fox made a case for special treatment Tuesday, arguing that as neighbors, the United States should exempt Mexico and Canada from visa quotas it imposes on all nations.
Granting legal status only to undocumented immigrants from Mexico probably would displease some advocates for people from other nations and draw oppostion from groups who believe immigration rules are too lax.
"His words are very promising," said Baldemar Velasquez, president of the influential Farm Labor Organizing Committee of the AFL-CIO, "but there are a lot of other forces in the United States that we have to reckon with. I'm sure there will be a lot of opposition from powerful agriculture groups, from Republicans and some Democrats."
In his remarks, Mr. Fox said a migration plan would benefit both nations.
"It is time to get real. Instead of criminalizing this labor migration, both countries should work together to regulate it based on common sense and the rule of law," he said. "This will allow migrants who work hard, pay taxes and abide by the law to be treated equally and to travel freely. It will also allow employers to have a more stable workforce and over time it should improve working conditions in low-wage sectors of the U.S. economy."
Mr. Fox returned to Mexico City after the La Raza appearance.Mr. Fox visits Washington for a summit in September, and both administrations have said they hope to announce a migration pact then. Any agreement is subject to congressional approval.
Standing on a chair and waving a tiny Mexican flag, Sergìo Ramìrez Andrade, a 45-year-old undocumented farm worker in Wisconsin who hasn't seen his family in five years, shouted: "Viva Mexico. Viva Los Estados Unidos. All I want is a permit, no matter whether you want to call it amnesty, or regularization. Just give me the means to travel back and forth and do my work."
Reprinted from the Center for Immigration Studies, Washington, DC email@example.com www.cis.org.