- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 10, 2006

MEXICO CITY — A member of the U.S. Congress yesterday criticized demands from Mexico and Central American nations that Washington legalize illegal aliens and institute guest-worker programs.

“Countries from which illegal aliens come are lobbying to keep our border security weak,” Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican, said a day after diplomats criticized a U.S. proposal for tougher border enforcement.

Meeting in Mexico’s capital, the regional officials pledged to do more to fight migrant trafficking, but indirectly condemned a U.S. bill that would make illegal entry a felony and extend border walls.

“Migrants, regardless of their migratory status, should not be treated like criminals,” they said.

The countries represented at the meeting Monday — including Mexico, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Belize and Panama — created a working group to design a regional policy to avoid migrant abuse and to follow the course of the legislation.

“There has to be an integrated reform that includes a temporary worker program, but also the regularization of those people who are already living in receptor countries,” said Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez.

Mr. Derbez has called the U.S. measure — which passed the House of Representatives last month but still must go before the Senate — “stupid and underhanded.” He was more restrained Monday, saying, “It’s not the Mexican government’s position to tell the U.S. Senate what to do.”

Mr. Tancredo responded yesterday by saying that “foreign powers must stay out of our domestic policies.”

The U.S. proposal has caused widespread resentment in Mexico, where some have accused President Vicente Fox’s administration of not being assertive enough in opposing it. Mr. Fox has called the bill shameful.

Mr. Tancredo said Mexico and Central America complain when Congress tries to get tough because “they have a direct economic interest in undermining the security of the United States.”

Mexicans working in the United States are a huge source of revenue for Mexico. These workers sent home more than $16 billion in remittances in 2004 and are Mexico’s second largest source of foreign currency after oil exports, according to the country’s central bank.

Fox spokesman Ruben Aguilar defended the administration’s record, telling reporters Monday that migration has declined in recent years, though official figures show it remains at historically high levels.

Mr. Aguilar also said migrants “don’t emigrate because they lack work, but rather for a series of other reasons — cultural reasons or better living conditions.”

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