- The Washington Times - Tuesday, July 17, 2001

The White House is considering a grant of amnesty for the millions of Mexicans who have sneaked into the United States and live here illegally.
However, White House spokesman Ari Fleischer stressed yesterday that the amnesty plan is just part of a package of proposals being developed by top U.S. and Mexican officials to deal with the problem of Mexican immigration. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell head the U.S. team studying the issue.
Mr. Fleischer said the proposals also include the possibility of creating a special "guest-worker program." The program would give legal status and a measure of protection to seasonal Mexican workers who routinely move back and forth across the border to harvest U.S. crops.
Both the amnesty and the guest-worker program have been high on the agenda of Mexican President Vicente Fox, and political analysts say his diplomatic corps has been pitching the ideas diligently since Mr. Fox and President Bush met last February.
The idea of granting amnesty — or "regularizing the status" — of what Mexico says is some 3 million people finds favor with certain Democrats and pro-immigration advocates. But it irks some Republican leaders and has students of Mexican affairs raising cautions.
For instance, Rep. Tom Tancredo, the Colorado Republican who heads the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, said: "This is a kick in the teeth to the thousands of individuals across the world who are legally attempting to enter the United States. Instead, the U.S. is saying, 'Why wait? Sneak on in.'"
Senate Minority Leader Trent Lott, Mississippi Republican, yesterday warned against making wholesale changes, telling reporters, "A mass amnesty is probably not the way to go.
"But what [the U.S. and Mexican administrations] are thinking about is trying to work with the new reform president of Mexico, Vicente Fox, and come up with a reasonable way to have movement back and forth across our border," he said. "I think we need to do it with some forethought not do it in such a way that rewards illegal activity."
House Democratic Leader Richard A. Gephardt of Missouri commended the Bush administration "for its reported review of the important issue of the immigration status of millions of Mexican immigrants living and working in the United States."
And the head of the National Immigration Forum, Frank Sharry, said, "This is a bold and smart move on the part of the Bush administration. If Mr. Bush plays this right, he will bring common sense to immigration policy and score a big foreign policy victory and stand with President Fox as a friend of Hispanic immigrants."
"It's not just smart, it's brilliant," says George Grayson, a College of William and Mary specialist in Mexican affairs.
He said moves toward amnesty can go far toward capturing for Mr. Bush the important Hispanic vote in 2004 while cementing favor with the popular and potentially powerful leader of Mexico.
Yet politics aside, Mr. Grayson and others say there are powerful arguments against amnesty.
"For one thing, this estimate of 3 million Mexican illegals is the Mexican administration's lowball estimate. It's more likely 6 million and could as easily be 9 million.
"Then too, amnesty rewards lawbreaking, and once done, it creates enormous pressure for future amnesties for those who are encouraged to pour across the border believing that they too will receive amnesty, permanent residency and eventual citizenship," Mr. Grayson said.
Mr. Grayson says a guest-worker program or immigration is not needed in the current tight job market, where largely uneducated and unskilled Mexican illegals are competing for the shrinking number of low-end jobs with America's own unskilled, high-school dropouts and people fighting to get off welfare.
A preliminary report containing the amnesty and guest-worker program proposals will be presented to Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox when the Mexican president completes a five-day visit to the United States this week.
Formal recommendations are expected by September, when Mr. Fox returns to the United States for a Washington meeting with Mr. Bush.

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