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.