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26 March 1999

Let Mexican workers in legally, Douglas mayor urges U.S.

By Ignacio Ibarra
The Arizona Daily Star

DOUGLAS - The mayor here wants the federal government to step away from what he calls a failed border policy by allowing Mexican workers to legally enter the country. In a letter sent Wednesday to President Clinton, Douglas Mayor Ray Borane said the nation's continued buildup of Border Patrol agents and resources is ``a severe losing battle'' that fails to recognize the economic realities driving hundreds of thousands of Mexicans to enter the United States illegally. Despite increased law enforcement, many of them will eventually find work with farms, meatpacking plants, hotels, motels, resorts, factories and other employers. ``These people are occupying jobs that people in the United States simply don't want and will not do. It is a mockery,'' Borane said yesterday in assessing the current strategy. ``We've had this huge buildup in law enforcement trying to keep (illegal entrants) out while at the same time employers are not only willing to hire them, but inviting them to come.''

According to 1997 Immigration and Naturalization Service estimates, there were 5 million illegal immigrants in the United States in fall 1996, and their numbers were rising by about 275,000 a year. That would put the total number now at about 5.7 million. The number of illegal entrants being caught has skyrocketed - the last fiscal year's record of nearly 390,000 apprehensions in the Tucson Sector will almost certainly be obliterated this year. The number of Border Patrol agents also has jumped, from fewer than 300 in 1994 to nearly 1,100 in the Tucson Sector, which includes all but the westernmost portion of Arizona's border with Mexico. In Douglas, the number of agents rose from about 50 to more than 300 in the same period. A Border Patrol official here said recently that it would take another 400 agents to secure the 30-mile stretch of border patrolled by Douglas agents.

In a recent editorial, the local daily paper, the Douglas Dispatch, said that is too high a price, and joined Borane's call for a return to the bracero work program. Hundreds of thousands of Mexicans entered the United States as farmworkers through the bracero program, which ended in the 1960s. The editorial said the American public doesn't have the stomach for the alternative - a crackdown on employers who hire illegals. ``The law enforcement effort clearly hasn't worked. . . . We have more law enforcement people down here than ever before and the problem is worse than ever,'' said Publisher Michael Parnell, who also serves on the Border Patrol's local advisory board. Reviving the bracero program would be consistent with the goals of the North American Free Trade Agreement, Borane said. ``It's not enough to free the flow of goods and services without doing the same for human resource when faced with the immense disparity Mexico faces vis-a-vis the United States and Canada,'' he wrote.

Bill Strassberger, a spokesman for the INS' Western Regional office in Laguna Niguel, Calif., said he understands the frustration the mayor and Douglas residents are feeling, but it is too early to say the INS strategy has failed. There are strong indications in San Diego and other points along the border that the strategy is working, he said. ``We need to look at the strategy as a long-term proposition,'' Strassberger said. ``What they've seen in Douglas so far isn't the end; it's just the start. This is a strategy of deterrence.'' Besides, he said, Congress already has considered and rejected the idea of expanding existing guest worker programs.

An agricultural guest worker program exists in which foreign labor can be used if the employer can prove no U.S. workers are available, but that program is rarely used. In 1995, Clinton opposed efforts to institute a new bracero program on the grounds that it would undermine the administration's illegal-immigration policy, increase illegal immigration and reduce opportunities, wages and work standards for American workers. ``When these programs were tried in the past, many temporary guest workers stayed permanently and illegally in this country,'' Clinton said. ``Hundreds of thousands of immigrants now residing in the U.S. first came as temporary workers, and their presence became a magnet for other illegal immigration.''