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Pro-Latino Groups Hope Immigration Reform Tops Agenda During Bush-Fox Meeting

Proponents of immigration reform in the United States hope President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox will put the issue high on their agenda when they meet this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in Los Cabos, Mexico. Those wanting immigration reform say if President Bush endorses new legislation on the issue, he could pave the way for Congress to enact it by the end of this year.

Some business and labor leaders say immigration is moving back onto Washington's agenda.

The co-chair of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, Laura Reiff, says her group was hoping for pro-immigration legislation more than a year ago, but world events changed that.

"That effort was coming to a very, very high pinnacle actually right before September 11," she said. "On September 7 we had wonderful meetings between the two administrations. But on September 11, things were dashed. Security was our primary concern."

Since then, pro-Latino groups and business and labor leaders have pushed to revive the issue. These groups argue that U.S. policy toward immigrants has failed to curb illegal immigration and has promoted the black market in smuggling and false documents.

The associate director of the Cato Institute for Trade Policy Studies, Daniel Griswold, says the flow of immigrants has actually increased because of demand for low-skilled workers.

"America's immigration laws are colliding with economic reality, and reality is winning. We have a disconnect in U.S. policy," he said. "While we've been encouraging closer trade, investment and political ties with Mexico, our government's been trying in vain to keep a lid on the flow of labor across the border."

Representatives from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and service industries such as the National Restaurant Association agree. They are lobbying for a program to legalize as many as eight million immigrants already in the country who have worked for a certain time. And some also advocate laws that will grant temporary work visas to new immigrants.

But some argue immigration should be curtailed. The Federation for American Immigration Reform says illegal immigrants cost the government money. Opponents also say the foreign workers take jobs from low-skilled Americans, drive down wages, and most importantly, pose a security threat to the United States.

The Cato Institute's Daniel Griswold says opponents are ignoring that immigrants take jobs Americans don't want, and the workers come from countries that do not pose terrorism risks.

"Most members of Congress, I believe, understand that Mexican migration is not a threat to national security," said. Mr. Griswold.

Laura Reiff thinks Congress could be ready to act on those beliefs after its November 8 elections.

"We are seeing signs out there that the talks are ripe and that both sides of the aisle are looking for a resolution to this issue," she said. "And so we are very hopeful that after the election we will be on the track for bipartisan legislation that's supported by many different sectors to go forward with the necessary legal immigration reform."

Supporters of the immigration legislation say they hope Mr. Bush, who endorsed the measures before, will again express strong support for it when he meets President Fox this weekend at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in Los Cabos, Mexico.