U.S. open to guest worker program for Mexicans


U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said on Monday the Bush administration was open to a “guest worker” program for Mexican migrants and would work closely with Mexico in drawing up ideas for the scheme.

Without promising full U.S. support for specific proposals, Ashcroft said President George W. Bush was “very interested” in the idea and saw it as a key element in improving relations with Mexico.

“I am pleased to say we are open to the guest worker program,” Ashcroft told reporters in Mexico City after meeting with his counterpart, Gen. Rafael Macedo de la Concha.

Making his first foreign trip as attorney general, Ashcroft met later on Monday with Mexican President Vicente Fox and senior cabinet ministers for talks focused on immigration, extradition and the war against drug trafficking.

Fox took office last December and is pushing for a significant shift in U.S. policy to allow many more Mexicans to enter the United States and give a new legal status to millions of undocumented workers already there.

The guest worker program, which has already drawn support in the U.S. Congress, would allow Mexican workers to enter the United States to find work with year-by year extensions.

Ashcroft said the scope and details of such a program had not yet been worked out but stressed that the U.S. government wanted to cooperate closely with Mexico.

Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell lead the U.S. side in the task force while Mexico’s team is headed by Foreign Minister Jorge Castaneda and Interior Minister Santiago Creel.

Cooperation on the issue moved further forward on Monday when the U.S. House of Representatives voted to extend the Legal Immigration and Family Equity (LIFE) Act, which allows illegal immigrants to apply to become permanent U.S. residents without first leaving the country.

The LIFE Act originally set April 30 as the deadline for illegal immigrants to apply for its protection, but many were unable to do so. The House voted to extend the deadline by four months, although it still requires the support of the Senate.