November 30, 2001

Immigration reform still on the table

By Stevenson Jacobs
The News (Mexico City)

MEXICO CITY, November 23, 2001 — The Foreign Relations Secretary on Thursday denied reports that an immigration reform deal with the United States had been derailed due to security concerns after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, saying officials expect to iron out details for a plan by early next year.

An Associated Press story this week cited anonymous White House officials who said an immigration deal would have to wait since many U.S. lawmakers fear legalizing migrants could leave the nation vulnerable to future attacks. The story said a Mexican delegation was informed of the lawmakers' stance during a weekend meeting in Washington.

Foreign Relations Spokeswoman Liliana Ferrer denied the report but acknowledged that, during the meeting, U.S. officials had stressed U.S. national security as their first priority. She pointed to last week's Mexico visit by two top U.S. Democrat lawmakers as evidence of the U.S. will to reach a deal.

Ferrer said U.S. officials during the meeting had even suggested "co-opting" an immigration program as part of an increased security shield along the Mexico-U.S. border. Mexican officials have floated a similar idea in the weeks since the attacks.

"Both sides remain committed to reaching an immigration agreement," Ferrer told reporters in Mexico City, adding, "Immigration is linked to the economic market, not to terrorism."

Just five days before the attacks, Fox and his team of advisors were in Washington trying to iron out the framework for a deal that would legalize as many as 3 million undocumented Mexicans living in the United States and give temporary work visas to millions more.

Ferrer said officials hope to reach a deal in the first few of months of 2002. Before the attacks, Fox had been pushing for a deal by December.

Foreign Relations Undersec-retary Gustavo Mohar, recently appointed negotiator-in-chief of immigration affairs, traveled to Washington over the weekend with hopes of kick-starting stalled immigration talks.

The same weekend, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle and House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt traveled to Mexico where they pledged not to let heightened security worries overshadow an immigration deal many considered a virtual lock before the attacks.

"Justice and Security are not mutually exclusive. We should create an immigration program that is just and favors families and businesses," wrote the lawmakers, both Democrats, in a joint editorial published in Mexico City newspapers.

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