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Non-Mexican Immigrants Criticize US Immigration Reform Proposal - 2001-08-29


When President George Bush meets with Mexican leader Vicente Fox next week, a priority issue for discussion is immigration and what can be done to curb the flow of illegal workers across the U.S. Mexican border. One option is an amnesty for Mexicans already living illegally in the United States. That option has angered immigrants from other countries, who complain they are being unfairly left out.

A group of experts working in Mexico and the United States has hammered out a set of proposals to deal with the issue of illegal immigration. The options would include guest worker programs, temporary visas and an amnesty for more than three million Mexican immigrants living illegally in the United States.

The proposals could become part of President Bush's much-anticipated plan for revamping U.S. immigration services.

But the Mexican amnesty option already has raised an outcry from other immigrant communities and workers unions in the United States.

Civil rights leader Julian Bond welcomes the amnesty option, but says it cannot benefit just one group. "The starting point for any immigration reform proposal must be to let hard working, taxpaying immigrants already in the United States earn legal status," he says. "In doing that, a program must apply to all hardworking immigrants in the country, no matter where they came from originally. We cannot have one immigration policy for people originally from Mexico and another for people originally from Jamaica or Haiti or Somalia or Ethiopia."

Marie Sylvain also resents talk of an amnesty for illegal aliens that would benefit Mexicans, but not her. The nursing home employee fled the poverty of Haiti more than 20-years ago, leaving her son, daughter, and mother in search of a better life for them in the United States. "We are good people and we work hard," she says. "[We are] no different from immigrants from Mexico. That is why we are standing up to tell [President] George Bush that he should legalize all immigrants, not just one group."

Immigration expert Demetrios Papademetriou helped map out the reform proposals. He says there is an urgent need to resolve the status of Mexicans in the United States, who represent the largest number of illegal aliens and a growing political force.

But, he agrees any amnesty plan for Mexican workers could be expanded to other immigrants. "I imagine the pressure would be unbearable to expand whatever system of credits we develop to include gradually everyone, which means you are going to put all your energy in trying to develop a set of criteria that are really responding to both political and public policy considerations," he says.

Mr. Papademetriou is co-director of the Migration Policy Institute in Washington. His proposed credit system would let illegal workers earn points toward legal residency, based on a variety of factors, from their length of stay and job skills to their proficiency in English.

Mr. Papademetriou says the plan could also serve as a model for other countries that share similar economic and political links. He cites France and Algeria, Germany and Poland, South Africa and Mozambique as examples.

For now, that remains a long-term dream. The Bush administration has indicated it will move slowly on immigration reform amid resistance among U.S. lawmakers to any quick-fix solutions.

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