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US, Mexico Report Progress on Immigration Issues - 2001-09-05

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell and Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda are reporting progress on the issue of immigration reform, but say an agreement on the status of Mexican migrant workers in the United States is probably years away. The two men chaired a meeting of the U.S.-Mexico Binational Council, on the eve of presidential talks at the White House.

Mr. Powell and his Mexican counterpart finalized bilateral agreements to - among other things - open two new border crossings, improve safety standards for cross-border food shipments, and to share assets the two countries' police seize from criminal gangs operating in the border area.

But they made clear that any agreement on U.S.-Mexican immigration - including the legalization of undocumented Mexican workers in the United States - is probably still years away from realization.

Speculation about an early breakthrough on the matter arose in July, amid news reports that the Bush administration was considering an amnesty for some three million Mexicans living illegally in the United States. But the idea came under broad attack from critics in the U.S. Congress and elsewhere. And on the eve of his arrival in Washington, Mexican President Vicente Fox told The Washington Post a comprehensive immigration plan will take four to six more years to conclude.

At a news conference with Mr. Castaneda, Secretary Powell said he is pleased with progress made since the Bush and Fox administrations first took up the issue six months ago, but that a deal will not be rushed into being. "It is a very difficult, tough issue and we've got to do it right, not do it fast. And we've made a great deal of progress with respect to principles," Mr. Powell says. "We are now getting ready to move from principles into specifics and programs, and how would one design such programs to satisfy our needs, satisfy the needs of our peoples and how do we do it in a way that we know the system will work when we put it in place. We want to be right, not in a hurry."

For his part, Mr. Castaneda acknowledged the political difficulties of the undertaking and said an agreement on migration would have to be part of a broad reform package. "We have to do it slowly, we have to do it right and we have to do it constructively and realistically," he says. "What I did mean, and I continue to believe and I think we agree essentially on this, is that we have to address all of the facets of the issue. We cannot only address one aspect, the one we would like most or perhaps the one the United States would like most, or that certain sectors of Mexican society or American society would like most."

Earlier, the bi-national commission - made up mainly of former government officials and academic experts - said in a report that many problems, including that of illegal immigration, stem from the income disparity between the two societies.

It said alleviating the Mexican disadvantage in incomes should be a principle policy objective of both governments.