Bush mulls Mexican amnesty plan


They work hard for little pay. They live in the shadows of society. They are afraid to report crimes for fear of being deported. And they worry that life will remain that way because they come from Haiti, Colombia or Vietnam — instead of Mexico.

U.S. President George W. Bush is considering a plan to grant amnesty to some 3 million Mexicans living illegally in the United States, but an equal number of undocumented immigrants from other countries may end up feeling left out.

“Immigration law is supposed to be for everybody,” Samedi Florvil of the Haitian Refugee Center in Miami said Monday. “I don’t think it complies with the law of immigration just to choose a nation and say, ‘We’re going to give residency to 3 million people by country only and leave all the other immigrants behind.”‘

Many details remain to be worked out and no decision is imminent, said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. Despite potential problems, Fleischer said the president was committed to working with the Mexican government to ease “what has been a disorderly process” along the 2,000-mile (3,200-kilometer) border.

Mexican President Vicente Fox welcomed the development, saying Monday that he is committed to “as many rights as possible for as many Mexican immigrants as possible as soon as possible.”

But fear is spreading that the final plan, if it grants amnesty only to Mexicans, may pit one immigrant group against another.

“The obvious question is: Why to them and not to Asian-Americans or people from other parts of the world?” said Wang Yung, a Seattle architect and board member of the local chapter of the Organization of Chinese Americans.

A task force of top Justice and State Department officials prepared a report for the White House outlining options for overhauling U.S. immigration policies toward Mexico.

A broad grant of amnesty for illegal Mexicans already living in this country was among the options cited by the task force, but the report did not include specific recommendations or spell out a timetable, administration aides said.

Some characterized the proposal as an attempt by Bush to court the Hispanic vote, which could be an important voting bloc for the 2004 presidential election.

“This is purely political. He wants to get the Mexican vote,” said Brigette Huynh, an editor at Little Saigon News, a Vietnamese-language weekly newspaper in Westminster, California.

In spite of reservations from some immigrant advocates, others were pleased to see undocumented Mexicans getting recognition.

“Mexicans have been doing backbreaking work with little reward for far too long, and a number of groups in the past few years have gotten the opportunity to legitimize their status and Mexicans have not been among them,” said Cheryl Little, executive director of the Florida Immigrant Advocacy Center in Miami.

Diane T. Chin, executive director of San Francisco-based Chinese for Affirmative Action, said the limited amnesty proposal is an “opening to discuss many different communities.”

Word that Bush is considering a mass amnesty has also touched off a lively debate in Congress, which would have to approve any such plan. Much of the strongest criticism of the idea is coming from conservative Republicans.

Granting legal residency to all Mexican immigrants is “very bad policy,” said Sen. Phil Gramm, a Republican from Bush’s home state of Texas. “It rewards lawlessness.”

Many Democratic lawmakers said the amnesty idea is a step in the right direction, but urged the Bush administration to consider a broader amnesty.

“I am troubled by this distinction that has been drawn between Mexicans and everybody else,” Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle said Monday.

That distinction also troubles Job Siciliano, a Los Angeles resident who came to this country from El Salvador in 1991.

“It’s not right,” he said. “It should be for all Hispanics. I don’t understand why it’s only for them.”