Actions, not words

April 25, 2006

Mexican President Vicente Fox's constant criticisms of legislative attempts in the U.S. to limit illegal immigration from his country do not help the debate Americans are having over the issue. His lobbying for a guest-worker plan that would allow hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to legally work here, and possibly gain permanent resident status, would get more support in the U.S. Congress if Mr. Fox's government were doing more to staunch the northbound flow of job-hungry migrants by improving economic conditions at home.

Mr. Fox would do better focusing on the push factors in Mexico rather than on the pull factors in the U.S. And he should start by implementing aggressive job creation strategies and anti-poverty initiatives in Mexico.

Mexican government officials say they can't prevent migrants from leaving because their constitution prohibits restricting the free movement of people. The Fox administration could encourage more people to stay, however, by offering government-sponsored work and educational opportunities as incentives. By relying heavily on the U.S. as a source of employment, and a major source of income - Mexican immigrants send home $20 billion annually - the Mexican government has not had to improve its woeful unemployment problem.

With just seven months left in his six-year term and his political party hurting from his failure to deliver a migration agreement with the U.S., Mr. Fox is desperate for American lawmakers to adopt legislation establishing a large national guest-worker program that goes beyond the smaller, more limited programs now used in certain industries. But a deeply divided Congress has yet to reach agreement on legislation that includes such a program. Yesterday, President Bush urged Congress to take up the matter again this week. And it should. The country needs a comprehensive immigration policy that will meet national security concerns and labor market demands - to serve U.S. interests, however, not Mr. Fox's.

Americans are also frustrated by the foot-dragging in Congress. As a result, 419 different immigration bills have been introduced in 44 states, making for a confusing hodgepodge of legislation. One uniform federal law would work better, but congressional inaction has left state lawmakers facing angry constituents demanding they act locally.

Among the immigration proposals in Congress is a measure that would require Mexico to help control the flow of people seeking jobs here and promote economic development at home as a condition of participating in the guest-worker program. Any legislation adopted by Congress should include these provisions; otherwise nothing will keep more migrants from coming.

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