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Majority of Mexican Immigrants in US Support Guest Worker Idea

A majority of Mexicans living and working in the United States would take part in a guest worker program that allowed them to stay in the country legally, but only for a limited time. That's according to a survey of nearly 5,000 Mexican migrants.

In the survey, conducted by the Washington-based Pew Hispanic Center, 71 percent of respondents said they would participate in a temporary worker program.

Almost the same proportion of those questioned said they would take part in a program that offered the opportunity for permanent legal status, once they had lived in the United States for five or more years.

Former Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castañeda worked on a Mexican draft proposal for a temporary worker program when he was a member of President Vicente Fox's Cabinet.

He says the vast majority of Mexican migrants want to be able to travel legally back and forth between the United States and Mexico. He says increasingly tight border controls make it more difficult for Mexicans to enter the United States, and those who attempt to enter illegally face considerable obstacles and risks.

"What people want to do is come and go, as long as they have the assurance that they will be able to come back next year," said Jorge Castañeda. "Right now, they can't, because the border is closed, because it's expensive and because it's dangerous. If you tell someone, 'you get to work six months here at this, go back to Mexico, wait six months, and you can come back, and you can come back, and you can come back,' that's what most Mexicans really want."

President Bush has proposed a plan that would allow undocumented workers to get temporary visas to work legally for a limited amount of time, but those documents would not lead to citizenship.

The issue is expected to be high on the agenda when U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visits Mexico in the coming week. President Vicente Fox is also determined to vigorously pursue it when he meets with President Bush and Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin later this month in Texas.

Mr. Castañeda, the former Mexican foreign minister, says views may differ between newly arrived migrants and those who have been in the United States for many years.

"Now, those who have already settled in the United States, the 4.5 or five million who are already there, who may have a family there, who have been living there for five or 10 years, they probably don't want to come back, and they won't," said Jorge Castañeda. "But they won't come back under current circumstances either. They won't come back period."

The survey found that most of those questioned would like to stay in the United States indefinitely, but most of those said they would participate in a temporary immigration program.