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Homeland Security

Washington File

02 June 2003

Powell Says U.S. Wants Movement on Immigration Issues with Mexico

(Secretary expresses regret over deaths of migrants in Texas) (880)
By Eric Green
Washington File Staff Writer
Washington -- Secretary of State Colin Powell says the United States
wants to "move forward" on immigration issues with Mexico, adding that
the Bush administration's goal is for "people to be safe as they try
to find legitimate ways" to enter the United States.
At a recent roundtable with reporters where he spoke extensively on
the immigration question, as well as about other global issues, Powell
expressed regret over the May deaths of 19 illegal immigrants, who
died from suffocation after being smuggled in the back of a
semi-trailer traveling from Mexico to South Texas. U.S. authorities,
calling what happened a "heinous, heinous crime," said all the deaths
were due to asphyxiation, dehydration, or heat-related problems.
In comments released by the U.S. State Department May 30, Powell told
the reporters that one of the great concerns of both the United States
and Mexico is "we don't want to see things happen such as has happened
out in the desert [in Texas] where people desperate to get in this
country" pay smugglers "to transport them illegally across the border
and put them at such risk."
The secretary said the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks against
the United States "slowed down all of our efforts, with respect to
facilitating [migrant] transit" across the U.S. border from Mexico.
"We found out we had to do a better job of securing our borders and
securing our people," Powell told the reporters May 27. In accordance
with discussions on the subject between President Bush and Mexican
President Vicente Fox, the United States wants to "move forward with
an immigration policy" that takes into consideration "the Mexicans
already here in the United States and making a positive contribution
to our economy, and doing a lot for themselves and doing a lot for the
American people," the secretary said. "So we want to work on this, but
securing our borders was a principal task we had after 9/11."
Powell said that legislatively, "some of the solutions [on
immigration] are extremely difficult to get." He said that immigration
issues before the U.S. Congress include "regularization" of
undocumented workers in the United States, supplying them with worker
permits, and reviewing a provision called 245(i) to allow eligible
immigrants from Latin America and elsewhere to remain in the United
States while making the transition to permanent-resident status.
"We haven't lost the vision" on the question of immigration, said
Powell. But he cautioned that "it's going to take us a lot more time
and a lot more effort."
Powell's comments followed President Fox's remarks that the May
immigration-related deaths emphasized the need for the United States
and Mexico to agree on a new immigration accord, which was being
negotiated by the two countries before the September 11 terrorist
attacks occurred.
Powell said that "it's frankly been unfortunate" that the two
countries "haven't been able to move as quickly as we all would have
liked to have moved" on the immigration question. President Bush, said
Powell, has assured Mexico's Fox on a number of occasions "that we
haven't lost sight of what we want to do, but it has proven hard."
The secretary said he understands the Mexican leader's desire to move
more quickly on immigration, "not only just as a political matter, but
as a matter of treating this precious population of Mexican citizens
in the right way, so they can come to our country legally and be
received and have an opportunity to earn a living and take money back
to Mexico and take skills back to Mexico," adding: "They [Mexican
immigrants] want to go back to their home. We would like to give them
the wherewithal to go back to their home, make it easy to go back and
forth, so that they can have a family in Mexico, and perhaps their
employment in the United States."
Immigration involves "extremely complex and difficult issues" dealing
with a lot of "equities and political interests," Powell said. "I say
political interests in a good sense, not a bad sense. People are
concerned and interested in how we move forward on immigration policy.
And it's been that way for many, many years, or else we wouldn't have
inherited the difficulties we now have."
And "we would like to be more forthcoming with President Fox," Powell
continued. "But because of our secure border requirement and some of
the legislative difficulties associated with this, we cannot -- we are
unable to move as quickly" as the Mexican leader would like.
Mexican migrants come into the United States "not [because] of
terrorism or [planning] terrorist acts to perform, but in search of an
economic opportunity," the secretary said. "And we want to work with
the Mexican government to regularize this -- both the movement across
the border, and [to] deal with the population that's already here --
and create a set of circumstances where ultimately the Mexican economy
will be able to absorb its own workers, and then those people will not
have to come to the United States for economic opportunity because
we're creating economic opportunity in Mexico."
(The Washington File is a product of the Bureau of International
Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site:

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