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US Democrats Ready to Make Immigration Deal - 2001-09-08

Congressional Democrats say they are ready to move forward on immigration reform following this week's visit to Washington by Mexican President Vicente Fox. President Fox wants a deal by the end of the year.

U.S. officials were a bit by surprised by the Mexican leader's timetable for a deal. President Bush opposes a general amnesty for the more than three million undocumented Mexican workers in the United States. But he did tell President Fox that he would work toward reforming existing immigration laws to treat Mexican workers more fairly.

Democratic Congressman Ed Pastor from Arizona says his party is ready to work with the President toward legislation that recognizes the challenges and benefits of immigration today. "It is naive to think that eliminating undocumented immigration is either possible or beneficial," Mr. Pastor says. "Our goal as Democrats in this new century is to shift the focus of our immigration policies to take advantage of, rather than fear, the economic and cultural evolution of our nation."

Congressman Pastor says real reform means lifting limits on the number of family and employment-based visas granted to Mexicans to remove the incentive for illegal immigration. "Making more visas available will not only reunite families that have been separated for many years," he says, but will also provide an incentive for immigrants to come legally rather than illegally. Extending visas to this portion of the migrant flow would also enhance border safety by permitting orderly entry through ports and eliminating the smugglers' market that serves as a magnet for other illicit activities."

In the Democrats' weekly radio address, Congressman Pastor said there should also be a process for deserving immigrants to legalize their status in the United States given the contributions they make in a variety of fields.

Some members of Congress oppose even a partial amnesty for undocumented Mexicans saying it would reward people for entering the country illegally and is unfair to those waiting for proper visas. Supporters say an amnesty would protect the labor rights of Mexican workers who are not guaranteed a minimum wage.

President Bush says solving the immigration problem means helping Mexico develop a larger middle class to expand economic opportunities there so fewer people feel the need to leave for a better life elsewhere.

In a joint statement at the end of the Mexican leader's visit, President Bush and President Fox announced plans for a public-private "Partnership for Prosperity" that will look for ways to increase economic growth in Mexico as a way to slow migration. That panel would submit an action plan to the leaders by March of next year.