- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 18, 2001

The flow of illegal immigrants across the Rio Grande is not a new problem, but it is receiving renewed attention from President Bush and his top aides. The New York Times reported on Sunday that Mr. Bush is considering extending full citizenship rights to the estimated 3 million illegal Mexican immigrants currently living in the United States.

Such a move comes at a particularly vital juncture in U.S.-Mexico relations, as Mexican President Vicente Fox has been making his way around the Midwest meeting with journalists, Latino advocacy groups and others to whom he can appeal for increased U.S. investment in our neighbor to the south. Naturally, Mr. Fox favors an initiative that would legitimize the status of illegal immigrants currently working here.

And it is not an issue that can be ignored here, either. From the outset of his presidency, Mr. Bush has made Mexico a priority, and it is certainly an area about which he knows a considerable amount. The two leaders are eager to arrive at a resolution to be made public by the opening of their summit on Sept. 4.

While it seems convenient to simply change a law to erase a problem, Mr. Bush would solve nothing by choosing this option. At the risk of turning a cold shoulder to the economic plight of the immigrants that drove them here, it is nonetheless clear that they arrived in violation of our established laws.

However, Mr. Bush is by no means out of options. The most coherent alternative is a guest worker program that would grant temporary work permits to Mexicans, but would also ensure their return home to strengthen the Mexican labor force. Conservatives such as Phil Gramm, one of the guest worker program's chief advocates, are thinking clearly enough to recognize that the illegal migration crisis will not abate until it is addressed on the demand side. The U.S. economy continues to need the Mexican workers, and the Mexicans need the economic opportunities afforded by the United States.

If the United States opens its borders under certain specified conditions, namely an agreed-upon return date, and if law-enforcement is part of the package, Mexican workers will be able to gain the skills and training that fuel our own prosperity, and return home to bring that same prosperity to Mexico.

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