U.S. law enforcement officials are meeting in San Antonio, Texas for a two-day conference on Border Terrorism, with an emphasis on coordinating activities to prevent terrorists from entering the United States from neighboring countries. But speaking at the conference Monday, U.S. Senator from Texas John Cornyn pushed for an agreement with Mexico to legalize undocumented immigrants, which he says would also help combat terrorism.
While much of the conference in San Antonio is focused on stopping people from crossing the border illegally, Senator Cornyn's proposal addresses the problem of those immigrants who only seek work. He says treating them like criminals or terrorists is counterproductive. "We need to make a distinction between people who want to come here and contribute and people who want to come here and hurt us," he says.
A bill Senator Cornyn is sponsoring would allow migrants from Mexico to live and work in the United States for a few years, after which they would return to Mexico. During their time in the United States, the migrants would pay 15 percent of their salaries into a fund that would pay for medical expenses, if necessary, or be returned to the workers once they go back home.
The advantage for law enforcement is that these workers would be operating in the open with proper identification and not in the shadows of society. Senator Cornyn says this would also reduce tension on the border and allow migrants to come and go legally and safely. "They could literally travel back and forth to their home country legally so they would not have to worry about law enforcement officials being their enemy," says Mr. Cornyn. "They would literally be their ally and protect them against exploitation."
Similar guest worker proposals are being sponsored by three other U.S. lawmakers. These proposals resemble the so-called "bracero" program of the 1940's in which millions of Mexican laborers came north to do jobs left vacant by men who had gone off to fight in World War Two. But critics say that program was a mixed success and many of the workers claim till this day that they were not paid all the money owed them.
Legalization of undocumented Mexican workers has been a major goal of Mexican President Vicente Fox. Mr. Fox seemed on the verge of success two years ago after a meeting with President Bush in Washington, but the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, followed that meeting by only a few days and U.S. policy shifted to securing the borders. President Fox says an immigration accord remains a top priority for his government, but he has not endorsed any specific proposal. Mexican officials and their U.S. counterparts are continuing discussions on the issue, but with an election year approaching in the United States no one is expecting significant progress on the matter any time soon.