- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 25, 2001

A Cabinet-level panel recommended to the White House yesterday a "guest-worker" program that could allow some of the 3 million Mexicans now living illegally in the United States to gain permanent resident status.

The proposal by the commission, headed by Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, is less generous than one previously under review that would have granted legal status to all undocumented Mexicans.

"The recommendation is to consider a new temporary guest-worker program that would allow for some of the workers to gain permanent resident status over a period of time," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan. "We are continuing to work with Mexico toward our shared goal of a more orderly, humane and safe migration. No decisions have been taken."

Earlier this year, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox began a series of discussions on how best to reduce illegal immigration between the U.S. and Mexico. The discussions included talks on the granting of amnesty to millions of Mexicans now illegally in this country.

The talks also included ideas on how to reduce violence along the 2,017-mile U.S.-Mexico border, where more than 1.5 million Mexicans are arrested every year trying to cross illegally. Last year more than 300 died, mostly from thirst and heat exhaustion.

The amnesty plan was among a package of proposals being developed by top U.S. and Mexican officials to deal with the immigration problem, although the panel headed by Mr. Ashcroft and Mr. Powell focused on the guest-worker program, which would give legal status and a measure of protection to seasonal Mexican workers who routinely move across the border to harvest U.S. crops.

The guest-worker proposal was sent to the White House on Friday, and eventually could lead to permanent legal status for as many as 2 million of the 3 million Mexicans now in this country illegally, although no specific number was included in the panel's report to the White House.

Mr. Bush's domestic policy and national security advisers are reviewing the proposal, with a final recommendation expected by September when Mr. Fox visits Mr. Bush in Washington.

The amnesty plan has received bipartisan criticism, including Sen. Robert C. Byrd, West Virginia Democrat, who said yesterday he supported an amnesty proposal by President Reagan in 1986 for 2.7 million illegal immigrants but would not make the same mistake again.

"We should not repeat our earlier mistakes," said Mr. Byrd, chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, noting that between 1986 and 2001, illegal immigration had increased from 5 million a year to as many as 13 million. "If amnesty is given to a class on the basis of their having broken the law, then we are rewarding breaking the law."

Sen. Phil Gramm, Texas Republican, said amnesty would set a bad example for the 7 million Mexican immigrants who have legally applied to enter the United States and are waiting to be approved, and Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and chairman of the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus, called amnesty a "kick in the teeth to the thousands of individuals across the world who are legally attempting to enter the United States."

But some senior Democratic senators support the amnesty plan and want Mr. Bush to expand it to include immigrants from other countries.

Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, South Dakota Democrat, has urged Mr. Bush to go forward with the amnesty plan. He and Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, Massachusetts Democrat, said they will look at the guest-worker proposal but want it to include protections for the workers and provisions to let them form unions.

House Democratic leader Richard A. Gephardt, Missouri Democrat, believes the panel's guest-worker proposal "doesn't go far enough," said his spokesman Eric Smith, adding that "there are other immigration groups that should get equal treatment."

Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican and ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said "some form of forgiveness under the law seems to be the only way to resolve" the immigration problem.

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