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Mexican Immigrants Reject Bush "Guest Worker" Plan

by Diego Cevallos

Bush Immigrant Amnesty Gets Mixed Reviews (2001)
(IPS) MEXICO CITY -- Groups of Mexican immigrants in the United States say it is unlikely that the immigration policy reform proposal presented by the U.S. government, which would issue temporary work visas, will make it through Congress. But they are anything but sad about that.

"The proposal as its stands is heading for failure, but that would be for the best, because it does not resolve the immigration problem," Mexican activist Lucas Benítez, the head of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers in the U.S. state of Florida and the winner of the Robert F. Kennedy human rights prize in 2003, said in a telephone conversation with IPS.

Carmelo Macedo, spokesman for Casa Puebla, which helps Mexican immigrants in New York, said the plan presented by President George W. Bush Wednesday should be modified "so that it addresses real problems, and isn't just aimed at winning over voters in an election campaign."

"We will only support the plan if it is modified, but I don't think it will be approved" by Congress, Macedo said in an interview with IPS.

The proposal, which has not yet been drawn up as a bill, is basically a temporary labor plan for the estimated 10 million undocumented immigrants, mainly Mexicans, living and working today in the United States, and for people outside of the country who would like to work there in the future.

In Mexico, the government of Vicente Fox, lawmakers and analysts received the news of the proposed guest-worker program with skepticism. The reactions ranged from disappointment to observations that it was merely a first step in an uphill process.

The proposal, which would not lead to permanent residency permits for immigrants as Mexico was urging, still has to be drafted as a bill and submitted to Congress, where many legislators in both houses have already announced that they will oppose it.

"It won't make it through Congress, and Bush knows that," said Benítez, who 11 years after entering the United States as an undocumented worker is today a respected leader of migrant farm workers. "The president's real interest is not in getting this approved, but to add another weapon to his campaign arsenal."

Bush will seek a second four-year term in the November presidential elections.

The number of people of Latin American origin in the United States increased 75.9 percent between 1990 and 2000, to the current total of more than 35.5 million. That includes an estimated 25 million people of Mexican descent, a group that has steadily increasing electoral and economic influence.

The exponential growth of the Spanish-speaking population in the United States occurred despite the strict controls put in place along the U.S. border since the early 1990s, which in the past three years have led to the death of 1,500 Mexicans who were attempting to make it into the country in search of work and a better future.

A University of California study states that undocumented Mexicans contribute $154 billion a year to the U.S. gross domestic product, which makes them a strong engine for the U.S. economy.

The Mexican government is not entirely satisfied with Bush's proposal and will insist on a more comprehensive program, said Foreign Minister Luis Derbez.

When Fox took office in December 2000, he made it clear that one of the top priorities of his government would be efforts to reach an immigration accord with Washington.

Until mid-2001, the government seemed to be making progress in that direction, but the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks that year on New York and Washington brought the talks to a halt.

Mexico and the United States resumed the dialogue in November, although Washington warned that a global immigration accord with amnesty included was a pipe dream.

Taking Mexico -- and even his fellow Republicans -- by surprise, Bush has now launched a plan that is "clearly unilateral, even if the Fox administration tries to deny that," said Laura del Alizal, a researcher at the Autonomous Metropolitan University of Mexico.

Bush and Fox will discuss migration issues next Monday, at the Special Summit of the Americas to be held in Monterrey, Mexico.

"The presidents of Mexico and the United States will try to take the greatest possible electoral advantage of the immigration proposal, even if it is a plan without a future," Benítez said by phone from Florida, where according to the Robert F. Kennedy Foundation, his activism has contributed to freeing thousands of undocumented farm workers from slavery conditions.

"I must say this new immigration proposal is unrealistic, and corroborates the idea that the U.S. government wants immigrants to remain a sure source of cheap labor, and nothing else," he said.

Bush said Wednesday that U.S. laws should be modified to allow immigrants to take the jobs that U.S. citizens do not want.

Under Bush's plan, undocumented foreign nationals already living in the United States could apply for an immediate three-year work visa, if their current employers sponsor their applications, and if they pay a registration fee. The visa would be renewable at least once.

Only after six years could they apply for permanent residency status, but without any guarantees of obtaining it. In fact, most of the guest workers would be expected to eventually return to their home countries. Participants who wished to become citizens would have to apply through existing channels.

While the work visas were in force, workers could travel to and from their homelands without having to worry about being turned back at the U.S. border.

Lorenzo Meyer, a professor of history at the College of Mexico, said the U.S. government was offering "slave labor to Mexicans," and predicted that even if it made it through Congress, the plan would be a complete failure.

Undocumented immigrants are unlikely to take part in the program, he said, because that would mean registering, which in no way would guarantee them residency status, and on the contrary would expose them to possible deportation.

If the plan were approved by Congress, it would amount to the most far-reaching overhaul of U.S. immigration law in almost 20 years.

However, "The plan is full of question marks and holes, but from what we know now, it does not appear to have a future," said Macedo.

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Albion Monitor January 8, 2004 (

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