- The Washington Times - Saturday, November 23, 2002

The Bush administration wants to grant amnesty to hundreds of thousands of Mexican illegal aliens now in the United States, according to the new U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
Tony Garza, sworn in this week at the White House, told reporters in Mexico City that reaching an accord legalizing the status of Mexican immigrants without giving them citizenship continues to be a top administration priority.
Mr. Garza also proposed new guest-worker programs for Mexican immigrants.
Bush administration efforts to pursue immigration agreements with Mexico were put on hold after the September 11 terrorist attacks on America.
"If we don't do something about their status, we will be admitting that our country has a permanent underclass," Mr. Garza said.
Congress plans to debate the matter as soon as the economy improves, he added, because "people tend to discuss immigration issues more comfortably when the economy is strong."
The new ambassador's comments Wednesday and Thursday fell short of a proposal by President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, made just four days before the September 11 attacks. That plan would have led to amnesty for as many as 3 million illegal aliens now living in the United States.
But Mr. Garza's remarks were viewed by the Mexican government and media as a first step toward a more comprehensive package.
A senior State Department official said he was unaware of any pending immigration proposal involving Mexico, and questioned whether it was wise to make recommendations that Congress might not approve.
"It doesn't do us any good to overpromise to the Mexican side or to indicate that we can do things that really we understand have no chance of getting through the Congress at all," the official said during a briefing on Secretary of State Colin L. Powell's trip next Tuesday to the U.S.-Mexico summit.
"There is tremendous sympathy, interest in seeing what can be done on this issue. There are other competing concerns security that have to be made consistent with whatever we do on immigration," the official said.
But the senior official noted that Mr. Garza "came directly from the White House, so maybe he knows something we don't."
Several Republicans on Capitol Hill are expected to oppose any effort to grant amnesty, led, in part, by the Congressional Immigration Reform Caucus.
The caucus has called the amnesty proposal "a kick in the teeth to the thousands of individuals across the world who are legally attempting to enter the United States."
"Instead, the United States is saying, 'Why wait? Sneak on in. Whether you enter illegally or not, you will be a resident or citizen in no time,'" said Rep. Tom Tancredo, Colorado Republican and caucus chairman. "The first lesson these new residents will learn about the United States is it is OK to break the law. Is that the America we want to build?"
In August, the government said 215,000 illegal aliens were granted legal status in fiscal 2001 and an additional 970,000 cases were pending. One in five persons who became legal U.S. residents in fiscal 2001 either entered the country illegally or remained here after the expiration of a temporary visa, the report said.
A recent Zogby poll found that 77 percent of Americans surveyed believe the government is not doing enough to control the border and 56 percent thought efforts by Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox to consider amnesty for as many as 3 million illegal immigrants was a "bad or very bad idea."
A Gallup poll found that 67 percent believe the U.S. government should not make it easier for illegal immigrants to become citizens.
Mr. Garza told Mexico's Reforma and El Universal newspapers that the United States could offer legalized residency to as many as 15 percent of the undocumented aliens who have been here for more than 10 years.
"What I would like to see is us have a debate to establish some criteria to legalize these people who have been part of our community," Mr. Garza told Reforma. "I believe we should recognize them, giving them some sort of status."
Although citizenship should not be included in the amnesty offer, the ambassador told El Universal, "that can be sought as part of another process, without discrimination."
In September 2001, Mr. Bush and Mr. Fox talked about amnesty for as many as 3 million illegals. Mr. Bush planned to ask Congress to legalize Mexican aliens if they took jobs that others passed up. The president also called for the abolition of laws barring American employers from hiring border jumpers.
"If somebody is willing to do jobs others in America aren't willing to do, we ought to welcome that person to the country, and we ought to make that a legal part of our economy," Mr. Bush said at White House ceremony with Mr. Fox. "We ought not to penalize an employer who is trying to get a job done, who hires somebody who is willing to do that kind of work."
Mr. Fox long has supported the idea that illegal aliens should not be viewed as criminals, but as essential to the success of the U.S. economy. The Mexican president was the force behind a joint U.S.-Mexico statement that immigration policy should respect "the human dignity of all migrants, regardless of their [legal] status."
The September 11 attacks put the proposal on hold.
White House chief political strategist Karl Rove told The Washington Times last year that an Hispanic-outreach strategy was only part of a broader plan to elect more Republicans to Congress and win Mr. Bush a second term. Mr. Rove said Mr. Bush's popularity among Hispanics was the result of a pattern of communication strategies, policy initiatives, high-level appointments and foreign visits.
Mr. Bush and Republicans were doing "far better among Hispanics than we have done in previous years," Mr. Rove said.
Most of the Hispanic population growth is in pivotal electoral states such as California, New Jersey, Texas, Illinois, New York and Pennsylvania. By 2010, the United States is expected to have the world's second-largest Hispanic population, behind only Mexico.


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