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ALTERNATIVES TO AMNESTY



Published: Fri, July 20, 2001 @ 12:00 a.m.



Los Angeles Times: Illegal immigration is such a complicated and emotional issue that the very words used to discuss it create controversy. Take "amnesty," which has been tossed around too lightly in Washington, stirring up the latest political storm over U.S. immigration policy.

The flap began with news reports that a top-level White House working group preparing immigration-control options for President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox was discussing the possibility of a blanket amnesty for an estimated 3million Mexican workers residing illegally in the United States.

Not surprisingly, the reports caused an immediate stir in Congress. Also not surprisingly, White House spokesmen immediately tried to clarify that an amnesty was just one of many options up for discussion and far from a done deal.

In fact, a blanket amnesty for 3 million illegal immigrants, from any country, is not politically feasible. The last general amnesty for illegal immigrants, in 1986, took several years to get the political support to pass Congress.

However, there are less dramatic steps that Bush and Fox could take. Mexican officials prefer to talk about "regularizing" their citizens in the U.S, using a less loaded word to describe actions short of amnesty.

Viable options: The working group, created when Bush and Fox met in Mexico last February, includes Secretary of State Colin Powell, Attorney General John Ashcroft, Mexican Foreign Affairs Minister Jorge Castaeda and Mexican Interior Minister Santiago Creel. The plan that is said to be emerging reportedly has several more politically viable options than amnesty.

They include the possibility of more U.S. visas for Mexican citizens and more and better cooperation along the U.S.-Mexico border to reduce crossings at dangerous, isolated areas. The plan also would explore more joint investments to create jobs in Mexico and the development of a guest worker program to allow Mexicans to temporarily live and work in the United States.

Obviously, no plan to liberalize immigration can be credible without solid information. For instance, some immigration advocates argue that U.S. farms and industries need labor, but how much of that is a desire for workers who will accept lower pay and be undemanding? The plan should start with an honest, in-depth analysis of labor needs. If guest workers were allowed, how long would they stay and how would they be repatriated? How would communities be helped to cope with the impact on schools and health and welfare systems? What employee rights would the guest workers have in order to avoid the mistreatment that plagued the earlier bracero program?

The trial balloon about amnesty clearly won't fly. Yet the lesser measures under discussion may eventually provide ample common ground between Mexico and the United States. Bush and Fox are right to grapple with this complex and painful issue, no matter how difficult progress may be.




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