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Powell in Mexico to Discuss Binational Issues - 2002-11-25

Secretary of State Colin Powell and other U.S. officials are traveling to Mexico City, Monday, to take part in the annual binational commission meeting with their Mexican counterparts. Mexican officials hope to use the meeting to re-ignite discussion of an immigration accord.

There are a number of important bilateral issues on the agenda for the two-day meeting, including trade, border security, agricultural subsidies and a dispute over sharing of water resources. But, immigration is the subject of most interest for Mexican officials.

Before September 11, 2001, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox seemed close to an agreement to provide legal status to the more than three million undocumented Mexican workers who reside in the United States. But the terrorist attacks shifted U.S. attention to other areas of the world and led to an unprecedented reinforcement of the border.

Mexico wants to move the immigration accord back to center stage, but U.S. officials have been cautious in their comments about the possibility of such an accord. The new U.S. ambassador to Mexico, Tony Garza, has spoken of a plan to legalize immigrants who have been in the United States for many years. Mexican officials had hoped for something of larger scope, such as a guest-worker program. But U.S. officials say there is no point in negotiating an agreement that has no chance of being passed by the U.S. Congress.

Still, expectations remain high here in Mexico that the meeting between Mr. Powell and Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda might at least start a process of dialogue on the immigration issue.

Other topics that will also be high on the agenda include the dispute over Mexico's failure to comply with a treaty regulating the flow of water into the Rio Grande River. That river defines the border between the two nations for more than half its length. Mexico has cited a prolonged drought for failing to deliver sufficient water from tributaries in its national territory. U.S. officials, responding to complaints by farmers in southern Texas, have demanded compliance with the treaty.

The binational commission meeting will also examine issues ranging from drug smuggling and other criminal activity to environmental problems along the 3,000 kilometer border.