Secretary of State Colin Powell told Mexican officials Tuesday President Bush will make immigration reform a "high priority" in his second term in office. Previous efforts to get legal status for Mexican migrant workers in the United States have stalled in Congress.
Mr. Bush came into office in 2001 promising to work with Mexican President Vicente Fox on a plan to legalize the status of millions of Mexicans and other undocumented aliens working in the United States.
Those efforts bogged down in the aftermath of the September 2001 attacks in the United States, when the attention of the administration and Congress shifted to security and combating terrorism.
But Secretary Powell says the issue will get renewed attention following last week's election, which gave President Bush a stronger hand in Congress.
Addressing the cabinet-level U.S.-Mexico Bi-National Commission meeting, Mr. Powell said while the United States is proud to be a nation of immigrants, too many immigrants now living and working there have no legal status:
"Early last year, President Bush proposed a temporary worker program to match willing foreign workers with U.S. employers, and to offer legal status to immigrants who contribute to our economy as they work to support their families," Mr. Powell said. "The President remains committed to comprehensive immigration reform as a high priority in his second term, and he will work closely with Congress to achieve that goal."
Authorities estimate there are some eight million illegal immigrants working in the United States, more than half of them Mexican.
The billions of dollars these workers send home make them an important constituency for President Fox, who raised the issue in a congratulatory phone call to President Bush last week.
Mr. Fox says that with the United States not facing presidential elections for another four years, and Mexico not until 2006, there is a window of opportunity to get action on the politically-sensitive issue.
Secretary Powell told reporters traveling with him that there could be "a more favorable environment" in Congress to move forward with a legalization plan, starting with the Bush proposal for temporary workers permits.
He also said he is "not deeply troubled" by the swing toward the left in Latin American politics, reflected most recently in elections in Uruguay late last month that brought a socialist coalition to power.
Mr. Powell said it is his responsibility to work with whoever the people elect in those countries, while also suggesting that despite their ideology, Latin American leftists have tended to govern pragmatically once in office.