ADMINISTRATION weighs residency for illegal Mexicans

Monday, July 16th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Bush administration is considering granting legal residency to millions of undocumented Mexican immigrants living in the United States.

Such amnesty would give a permanent reprieve to certain Mexicans living undercover in this country, largely in the border states. It also could be a political boon to the Republican president as he seeks Hispanic support.

There are 3 million Mexican-born people living illegally in the United States, according to a report last week by Mexico's National Population Council.

An immigration task force of top Justice and State Department officials planned to send President Bush a report Monday on the broad outlines of U.S.-Mexican border issues. It will recommend that the United States address illegal immigration, but will stop short of offering concrete proposals, a Justice Department official said Sunday.

The task force is considering several options, including a proposal to give the illegal Mexican immigrants permanent residency, said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity. That is what Mexican President Vicente Fox has been pressing Bush for.

Major questions remain unanswered about how the administration would administer such a program. The official said issues under consideration include how quickly the immigrants could earn legal status, and whether they would gain such status based on date of entry into the United States, or by occupation, such as farm worker.

The working group was formed after Bush and Fox met in February. Attorney General John Ashcroft and Secretary of State Colin Powell head the task force, which hopes to have recommendations for the two presidents by September, when Fox visits Bush in Washington.

Ashcroft is meeting with Mexican officials in California and Arizona later this month to discuss border issues. He and Powell also will meet with their Mexican counterparts in early August.

The preliminary report will be presented to Bush as Fox completes a five-day visit to the United States this week. On Monday, Fox planned to meet in Detroit with auto executives and union officials.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., said he would back the kind of amnesty move now under consideration.

``I believe that these people are living here, and it's a recognition of reality. They are working here,'' he said on NBC's ``Meet the Press.''

But Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., sounded a more cautious note.

``Just to summarily grant legal status to 3 million people, many of them that got here illegally and have violated the law while they're here _ I'd want to make sure we do this carefully,'' he said on ``Fox News Sunday.''

Any guest-worker or amnesty program proposed by Bush would require approval by Congress. Some Democrats also object, mindful of union fears that guest-worker and amnesty programs could drive down wages and decrease job opportunities for Americans.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, introduced legislation last week to create a program that lets farm workers now working in the United States become permanent residents after working 150 days a year for four years.

Bush drew 35 percent of the Hispanic vote in November, and has continued to woo them since then. Recent Census figures indicate the number of Americans of Mexican ancestry has grown 53 percent over the last decade.