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Some Immigration Reality

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It’s too bad that a comedy film being developed in Los Angeles won’t be ready to screen when President Vicente Fox of Mexico meets with President Bush in Washington this week. The movie is about what would happen in California if the state’s Mexican population stopped showing up for work. The fields are suddenly empty--no one to harvest the crops. No cooks, waiters and maids to service the kitchens, restaurants and hotels from Eureka to Imperial Beach. The construction industry comes to a standstill and meatpacking lines are deserted. Executives can’t go to work because the nannies didn’t arrive. Beverly Hills’ backyards are soon overgrown.

“A Day Without Mexicans,” written by Sergio Arau and Yareli Arizmendi, is of course fiction, but its premise is based on reality: California and other states have grown dependent upon the cheap, mostly Mexican, immigrant laborers who live and work in the country illegally.

The presidents of the United States and Mexico are well aware of this undesirable situation and want to make migration from Mexico to the United States mutually beneficial, safe, legal, orderly and predictable. Wednesday and Thursday, Presidents Bush and Fox will hear the report prepared by the task force formed in Mexico last February during their first meeting as national leaders.

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There will be no detailed proposals on issues such as a temporary guest worker program, and no legalization of workers already in the U.S will be announced. The logistics of those programs are extremely complicated, and the politics that have plagued the bilateral concerns of the two neighboring countries are a minefield.

Yet this should not be taken as a setback. The conversations between the two administrations mark only the beginning of the real national debate on immigration reform. Once the binational group reaches an agreement, the real negotiation between the Bush administration and Congress can begin.

It would be rewarding, however, if the two presidents would make public the tone and tenor of their plans.

For instance, Bush could tell us if he will propose to Congress some sort of legalization program and how limited or expansive he envisions it being. Fox should say he will do his best to dissuade Mexicans from dangerous border crossings and crack down on the smugglers who prey on them.

Should a temporary guest worker program include a “path to legalization” for those workers who “earn” it? Does Bush agree with the Mexicans when they say the negotiation should be seen as a package in which all the items are so inseparably linked that if one falls, the others fall? (Mexican Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda insists, “The whole enchilada or nothing.”)

The new immigration script hasn’t been written, and already it’s a cliffhanger.

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