Courtesy Reuters

The Mirage of Mexican Guest Workers


For decades now, the unlawful migration of millions of Mexican nationals into the United States has been a source of sometimes passionate disagreement on both sides of the border. In the past year, new presidents have come to power in the two countries and have given priority to addressing the issue. President Vicente Fox, who refers to unauthorized Mexicans in the United States as "heroes," has pledged to negotiate both a temporary labor program to bring Mexican workers legally to the United States and a large-scale "regularization of status" for some or all of the millions of illegal migrants already living there. President George W. Bush, who expresses real interest in Mexico and high personal regard for his Mexican counterpart, has reciprocated Fox's willingness to reach an agreement. Bush sees a potential benefit to U.S. agricultural employers in a Mexico-U.S. guest worker program, and his administration has floated the possibility of legalizing millions of Mexicans unlawfully resident in the United States in conjunction with such an initiative.

Bush has received support from some Republican and Democratic lawmakers on Capitol Hill, where congressional camps have rallied around three distinct proposals. The first, most expansive plan would legalize or give amnesty to some or all of the illegal Mexican immigrants on U.S. soil. A second approach would grant guest or temporary work visas for a specified time period, on the understanding that the workers would leave the country when their visas expired. Finally, an "earned legalization" program would grant temporary legal status and create a way for individual migrants to earn permanent legalization by fulfilling certain conditions, such as 90 to 150 days of farm labor within a year of receiving a guest visa.

In August, Mexican and U.S. negotiators reached preliminary agreement on proposals involving the latter two concepts. Their plan would bring in guest workers to fill niches in agriculture, hospitality, and food service -- sectors that already employ a large proportion of the illegal Mexican immigrants

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