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The News
México City, July 18, 2000.

Mexican Rights Groups Lobby U.S. Congress

By SONIA MEISENHEIMER

The News Staff Reporter

WASHINGTON -- Encouraging the U.S. Senate to consider a guest worker program for Mexicans, representatives from the International Coalition of Mexicans Abroad presented a detailed proposal Monday to Rep. Henry Hyde, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

Also Monday, the National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty for Immigrants, backed by Catholic Church officials and the AFL-CIO, held a press conference declaring support for unconditional amnesty and human rights for undocumented workers in the United States. They scheduled a rally outside the Capitol on Thursday in support of the movement.

It was the first time a coalition of Mexican organizations had submitted a legislative proposal to a member of U.S. Congress, said Peter Soukaras, attorney and legal advisor for the group.

The coalition first met with Hyde in February of this year and he encouraged them to devise a proposal to address Mexican workers' concerns regarding their legal status in the United States, said a House Judiciary Committee spokesman.

Soukaris said the proposal was designed to ''address economic reality and benefit both Mexico and the United States.''

Because the United States is experiencing economic prosperity and a shortage of labor, and Mexico has been shown to have a labor surplus, a legal exchange of labor would be beneficial to both nations, said Soukaris.

Additionally, undocumented workers cost the United States government millions of dollars in unreported taxes, Soukaris said. An even bigger problem, he added, is the inability of these laborers to obtain Social Security cards. Subsequently, they often go without drivers licenses and automobile insurance, he said.

The proposed ''temporary workers program'' would allow for Mexicans with work permits to move freely between the United States and Mexico and get Social Security cards, said Soukaris.

The program would grant each applicant five years to work in the United States, a two-year extension, and another two-year extension at the request of an employer, he said. It also would allow for regulation of currently undocumented workers. An estimated 9 million undocumented workers live in the United States.

''Other (guest worker) programs have been heavily regulated by the government. For our proposal to work, the government has to have a greater faith in the demands of the marketplace to dictate the duration of a worker's stay and the need for such a program,'' Soukaris said.

The proposal included a bilateral job bank through which U.S. employers could send requests for workers to Mexican agencies to find appropriate workers.

''It is an interesting proposal that deserves study by people on all sides of the immigration debate,'' said Hyde. The National Coalition for Dignity and Amnesty for Immigrants, called for unconditional amnesty for undocumented immigrant workers, using the tagline, ''No Human Being is Illegal''.

Rep. Lamar Smith, Rep.-Texas, has long opposed amnesty programs because they have shown themselves to lead to higher levels of illegal entry and are filled with fraud, said Allen Kay, his spokesman.

Kay said that amnesty also would be ''a slap in the face to those waiting to enter the U.S. legally.''

A strategic guest worker program is more likely to gain careful consideration than unconditional amnesty, said a House staffer.

Rep. Luis Gutierrez, Dem.-Ill., disagreed. Gutierrez has worked closely with Dignity and Amnesty and generally supports an amnesty program for undocumented workers, but doesn't have much confidence in guest worker programs, said Billy Weinberg, his press secretary.

One way or another, undocumented workers can't be ignored much longer, said a House Judiciary Committee spokesman.

''It is a growing problem and we can't put our head in the sand. It's not a question of grappling with the problem, it's a question of the problem grappling with us,'' he said.