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Powell Promises Renewed US Engagement on Mexican Immigration Issue


Secretary of State Colin Powell says, in the wake of last week's American election, the Bush administration is ready to make a new push in Congress to legalize undocumented Mexican workers in the United States. Mr. Powell is in Mexico City for a cabinet dialogue on immigration and other issues with Mexican officials.

Last January, President Bush sent Congress a plan that would have extended temporary work permits to millions of Mexican and other undocumented immigrants employed in the United States.

The proposed legislation bogged down because of election-year politics and other factors. But Mr. Powell says the Bush administration intends to give the idea a new push in the wake of the election, which strengthened Republican majorities in both houses of Congress.

In a talk with reporters en route to Mexico City, where he will co-chair the annual meeting of the American-Mexican Bi-National Commission, Mr. Powell said he thinks the mood for action on immigration has improved since President Bush first raised the issue in 2001.

"I sense that there could be a more favorable environment. But, it's always a difficult issue before the Congress. And I can't predict yet how the new Congress, with the new lineup, will look at this," stated Mr. Powell. "We'll have to wait until they're in place -- who's in charge of what committee. But the President made it clear to President Fox in their conversation last week that he does want to move forward, beginning with the temporary workers permit."

In a congratulatory call to President Bush after the election, Mexican President Vicente Fox pushed for action on immigration, saying the two countries now have a window of opportunity with neither facing elections in the near future.

Mexicans make up half the estimated eight million undocumented workers in the United States. The millions of dollars they send back home are a key factor in the Mexican economy. In a Monday interview, Mr. Fox said an agreement giving them legal status is vitally important to Mexico.

The plan Mr. Bush submitted last January would give temporary work permits to illegal migrants working in the United States. At the time, the President said he would expect most of them to permanently return to their home countries after their work period expires.

Secretary Powell says chances for Congressional action on a plan have improved because of progress made on securing U.S. borders three years after the September 2001 terrorist attacks and because of greater public appreciation of the value of good relations with Mexico.

Mexican officials say their government has cooperated with Washington against terrorism, drug trafficking and the smuggling of migrants across the border and that it is time for the United States to reciprocate with action on migration.