U-Turn for Illegal Aliens?

Secretary of State Colin Powell and other cabinet members met last week with Mexican officials to find solutions for a range of border issues. They came up with a new telephone hotline for emergencies and an agreement to form a task force to improve border security.

That's considered progress in light of little movement on border issues ever since 9/11 put a brake on talks on curbing the biggest problem of all: illegal migration. Some 60 percent of the 8 million to 10 million illegal immigrants in the US are Mexicans, according to US government estimates.

The confidence-building meeting raises hopes that US immigration laws may finally be overhauled.

Just before 9/11, President Bush and Mexico's President Vicente Fox were working to grant legal status to "qualified" immigrants and create an expanded guest-worker program.

The time may be ripe to consider several immigration-reform bills pending in Congress. The one with the most popular support, the so-called "AgJobs" bill, sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon (R) of Utah and Howard Berman (D) of California, would allow 500,000 undocumented farm workers to become legal residents. Such an amnesty, however, would set a bad precedent and encourage more illegal immigration.

A better solution is a bill sponsored by Sen. John Cornyn (R) of Texas. It sets up a guest-worker program, but requires illegal migrants to go back to Mexico after two years and apply for a visa before reentering the US. Senator Cornyn's idea preserves US law while respecting the reality that Mexican workers have become a vital resource for the US economy.

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