- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 20, 2007

MONTERREY, Mexico — Congress’ new immigration plan was bad news for tens of thousands of poor Mexicans who depend on a U.S. guest-worker program for temporary jobs in agriculture and other seasonal work, such as landscaping and construction.

Millions of would-be migrants have been holding tight to President Bush’s promise that they could apply one day for temporary visas to get a glimpse of the American dream.

At the U.S. Consulate in Monterrey, which hands out more temporary visas than any other consulate or embassy in the world, Edmundo Bermudez, a 36-year-old from the northern city of Durango, said the plan rewards those who have entered the United States illegally while shutting out those who stayed home hoping to gain legal passage.

He was especially offended by the plan to give preference to migrants with degrees and skills.

“The United States already has enough people with college degrees. Who is going to cut their tobacco?” asked Mr. Bermudez, who has been working intermittently in the United States for the past eight years. In Mexico, he makes about $10 a day, while in the United States he earns $8 in an hour.

The proposal, announced Thursday in Washington, omits Mr. Bush’s original plan to grant three-year visas to migrants living in their native countries. Instead, it focuses on securing the border and giving illegal aliens a path toward legal residency, while gradually giving preference for new visas to those with advanced degrees and specialized skills.

Many in Mexico — and U.S. employers who say they need workers for low-skill jobs — had hoped Congress would expand the guest-worker program and allow more to cross legally, work a few months and then return home with their savings to build homes and businesses.

Gilberto Escalante, a 41-year-old fisherman from Topolobampo in Sinaloa state, said the current temporary visa program is better than the congressional plan because it gives Mexicans the option to enter and leave the United States freely while maintaining their lives in Mexico instead of forcing them to choose between the two countries.

“We don’t want the house or the latest car in the U.S. We want to go and work so that our families can have a good life in Mexico,” said Mr. Escalante, who came to Monterrey to apply for a visa to work on fish and shrimp boats off the coast of Mississippi.

Yet the congressional plan was welcome news to the millions of Mexicans who depend on the $23 billion sent home each year by Mexicans living in the United States, many illegally.

The proposal would allow illegal aliens to obtain a “Z visa” and after paying fees and a $5,000 fine get on track for permanent residency, which could take eight to 13 years. Heads of households would have to return to their home countries first.

It is also good news for the Mexican government, which has spent years lobbying the United States for a comprehensive immigration reform that allows more people to work legally in the U.S. Many had feared the legislation would authorize only more border security measures, such as adding to National Guard troops at the border and other high-tech security measures.

Victor Aviles, a spokesman for Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department, cautiously welcomed the initiative.

“The Mexican government hopes that the different actors involved in the debate and eventual approval of this initiative take advantage of the opportunity it presents,” he said.

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