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US, Mexico Visa Plan Hits a Snag - 2002-10-08

A delay in a proposed U.S. visa plan is preventing Mexican workers from temporarily crossing the border to find jobs. The program intended to end illegal immigration to the U.S., has been sidetracked by other pressing issues in the U.S..

Illegal immigration northwards by thousands of Mexican workers has been a thorn in the underside of U.S.-Mexican relations for decades. The United States has spent considerable resources plugging gaps in the 2,000 mile border. As clandestine crossing points become scarcer and more remote, hundreds of young Mexicans have drowned trying to swim the Rio Grande or succumbed to dehydration in the blistering heat of the desert in Arizona.

Mexico and the United States had been working together to create a plan to eliminate these dangers with the creation of hundreds of thousands of temporary work visas. These would allow migrant laborers to stay in the U.S. up to three years, but then oblige them to return home for at least a year before returning. The plan would be funded by relevant service industries, offer fair pay, decent temporary housing and proper two way travel arrangements.

But this all fell by the wayside after September 11, and Harvard based U.S.-Mexico relations expert Dr. Barbara Driscoll explains the Bush administration now certainly has much bigger fish to fry. "Right now, the Republicans are facing a really difficult challenge in the United States," she says. "They are beginning to tie a war with Iraq into homeland security, and I can't help but think that any kind of migration politics, if it was on the back burner before, it will now be upon the shelf at least for a while."

Gustavo Mohar, the Mexican government's chief negotiator on migratory matters, says that even though extraordinary and unforeseen circumstances have intervened and interwoven themselves around this vital issue, it is just too crucially important for both countries, to be allowed to stagnate still further. "We always knew that making the American public, social fabric, Congress and government understand that this is an issue that is in the benefit of both, was going to be a big challenge. We also understood that September 11th created a paradigm and a turning point in U.S. foreign policy and domestic policy for many reasons. But it is now time...we think, for the U.S. to understand that this issue is still pending and it's time to re-take it," says Mr. Mohar. "In spite of Iraq, and we are not naive, we understand and we closely follow the political debate in the U.S.. We know of elections coming in a few weeks in the United States. We understand the Congressmen are very concerned about being re-elected. But we are going to be here forever, with the U.S. our neighbors, and these flows of people have continued regardless of September 11, even with a recession, even with a slowdown in the U.S. economy. The demand for Mexican workers has continued."

Experts estimate that more than quarter of a million Mexicans annually make illegal crossings, but acknowledge the true number could be much higher, especially in current hard times.

Professor Gustavo Verduzco is the Director of Sociological Studies at the College of Mexico, and a specialist on Mexican migration flows. He explains that a temporary work visa for tens of thousands of migrant workers would improve security on the frontier while solving the overall problem in Uncle Sam's back yard. "Yes it will diminish certainly. But on the other hand, what I was mentioning before, it is important that we get a better trade agreement with the U.S., so that we can foster the development of Mexico," says Professor Verduzco. "This is solution in the long run."

A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City explained that because the temporary migrant worker visa legislation is pending, no one in their consular section is prepared to offer any sort of comment, or expert point of view on the matter.

There is also no current U.S. Ambassador in Mexico City. President Bush's nominee, Tony Garza, is undergoing congressional hearings, which are so far proceeding without any problems.