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Powell: US Committed to Immigration Accord with Mexico - 2002-11-26

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell is in Mexico City to take part in bilateral talks with Mexican officials about a number of issues, including immigration, trade and border problems. Mr. Powell says the United States remains committed to an immigration accord with Mexico, but that security concerns are a priority at the moment.

In an appearance before business leaders Monday, Secretary of State Powell said the terrorist attacks of September, 2001 alerted the United States to the need to protect its borders. But, he said, there is also a recognition that tighter security must not mean closing the door on the rest of the world. "We want to make sure that in the process of protecting ourselves we do not convey to the world that the United States is not a welcoming place," he said. "We would be giving the terrorists a win and hurt ourselves if people stopped coming to our schools, stopped coming to our attractions… people stopped immigrating to the United States to become United States citizens."

Mr. Powell acknowledged that the war on terror had delayed movement towards a migration accord with Mexico, but he insisted President Bush remains committed to finding a solution to the immigration problem. "The problem exists with those who are undocumented and one of the big challenges we are going to have in the years ahead is to find ways to regularize this population so that they can be fully integrated into our society or be put in a situation where they can return to Mexico and then come back to the United States," said Mr. Powell. "What we are looking for is a way to regularize the movement back and forth."

There are currently more than three million undocumented Mexican immigrants in the United States. While some industries have come to rely on them for the relatively cheap labor they provide, critics say the flow of so many immigrants over the border has created a burden on local communities. They also say such a mass migration is a testament to Mexico's failure to produce sufficient work for its own people. In this regard, Mr. Powell said the Bush administration wants to work with Mexico through programs like the Partnership for Prosperity, which channels investment to poorer areas of Mexico in order to create jobs there.

Mr. Powell downplayed reported friction between Washington and Mexico over the recent vote in the United Nations Security Council on the Iraq resolution, in which Mexico backed a French proposal. The U.S. Secretary of State said this had been part of the normal give-and-take of diplomacy and he expressed confidence in Mexico's commitment to enforcement of the resolution. "Should Iraq not comply with the resolution, I am sure Mexico will play a role in any further discussions in the Security Council as to what consequences should follow," he said.

Mexico currently holds one of the non-permanent seats on the Security Council.

Mr. Powell will continue his discussions with Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and other Mexican officials on Tuesday.