- The Washington Times - Friday, September 7, 2001

As President Bush and his Mexican counterpart, Vicente Fox, flew to Toledo, Ohio, yesterday, Mexico's immigration czar remained in Washington to bring his nation's illegal workers out of the shadows and campaign on their behalf.
"The president asked me to work the grass roots," immigration chief Juan Hernandez said in an interview yesterday between Mexican-American business leaders and local community leaders in Washington.
A blond, U.S.-born professor at the University of Texas in Dallas, Mr. Hernandez has become Mr. Fox's emissary to — and defender of — the estimated 23 million immigrants of Mexican descent.
About 3 million to 4 million of them are illegals, who have been working at the lowest-paid jobs such as harvesting fruits and vegetables or cleaning up in restaurants and hotels.
Now Mexico and the United States are struggling to find a way to end the danger posed by smugglers, who milk would-be migrants for vast sums of money in exchange for setting up a one-time dash across the border.
Mr. Fox dropped a bombshell Wednesday when he said an agreement on immigration should be completed by the end of this year, only to be told by Mr. Bush that it probably would take longer.
Fierce opposition in many parts of the United States to blanket amnesty has made it unlikely Congress will easily be persuaded to vote for such a plan.
While negotiations continue, Mr. Hernandez said, it is "my job is to see their lives are better here."
He hailed a recent decision by Texas to allow all illegal aliens to attend the state universities at low state resident fees — a move he hopes other states will copy.
Mr. Hernandez had testified before the Texas Legislature to urge approval of the move. Partly as a result, banks and credit unions have begun allowing undocumented aliens to open bank accounts and obtain automatic teller machine cards.
This permits relatives back in Mexico to receive cash from their working family members in the United States without paying the $40 fees often charged by some transfer services for sending amounts as small as $200.
"The amount of money flowing into Mexico increased 41 percent in the first trimester of this year" — from $1.3 billion to $2.1 billion — since the alternate methods of sending money were introduced, Mr. Hernandez said.
Another program Mr. Hernandez is pushing would allow illegal aliens to obtain drivers' licenses if they can produce identity documents furnished by the Mexican consulate after checking Mexican proof of identity.
Albert C. Zapanta, president of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said Mr. Fox sought to "give Mexican-Americans dignity."
"They are coming out of the closet and into the sunshine. All of us have some illegals in our families," said Mr. Zapanta, whose family lived in California before it joined the United States.
He said many Mexican-Americans oppose simply granting amnesty to illegals.
"They should do it in a legal process," he said. "There should not be an amnesty."
Mr. Zapanta proposed that if illegals have jobs and employers prove they can't find American workers, then the Mexicans should be allowed to regularize their stays.
"My members in the Midwest say they have shortages of labor," said Mr. Zapanta.


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