Mexican 'Guest' Workers

When President Bush and Mexico's Vicente Fox meet Friday, one item on the agenda will be the continuing flow of Mexicans north.

The Mexican president's answer is deceptively simple. He'd like an open border, which he views as a logical extension of the NAFTA trade deal. But Washington and most US citizens are leery of opening the doors that wide to Mexicans seeking better economic opportunity in the United States.

However, the political climate in Washington is growing more open to a small step in Mr. Fox's direction: an expanded "guest worker" program. Mr. Bush may raise this possibility as he chats with Fox at the latter's ranch in Guanajuato.

This idea should be approached with caution. Without question, it's an accommodation to economic reality. Immigrants from Mexico already fill thousands of low-paying jobs in the US (though high-paying compared with those back home), from farm hands to restaurant help. Certain industries, most insistently agriculture, badly need the added labor.

But guest workers, recruited for and assigned to a particular industry, have historically been subject to abuse, such as being underpaid. And many guest workers, allowed in on short-term visas, could decide to seek out better-paying jobs and stay longer.

If such a program is to serve both sides of the border, it must have strong enforcement elements - both to protect workers and to make sure they abide by the rules.

(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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