Bush attempts to woo Latinos
August 1, 2001
President Bush's proposal to allow legal status for Mexican workers living in the United States would not be a panacea for Mexican laborers in this country.
The plan, which would allow legal status for the estimated one to two million Mexican immigrants who meet eligibility requirements, is an attempt to win the favor of Latino voters. But Bush's plan is a hasty solution to a centuries-old problem.
Bush's announcement comes at time when his advisers have told him that he needs to boost his share of the Latino electorate to more than 40 percent if he expects to win re-election. He presumably believes that providing amnesty to Mexican immigrants will earn him the Latino vote.
Amnesty would provide immigrant workers, most of whom earn low wages and pay taxes, an opportunity to gain legal status and become productive citizens of the United States. There's nothing wrong with that.
But amnesty is not a complete answer to the social, political and economic problems Mexican immigrants face.
It would not necessarily improve the quality of life for many immigrants, and it would not necessarily bring higher pay.
What's more, amnesty for a million Mexican workers could lead to another outbreak of anti-immigrant, anti-Mexican hysteria here.
The Bush administration appears to see amnesty as a precondition for a new temporary guest-worker program. This should raise alarms since such programs in the past have been disasters.
The Bracero Program, which lasted from 1942 until 1964, promised to help control and reduce illegal immigration, while also helping to fulfill a labor shortage. The program allowed Mexican workers to enter the United States to do contract work in agriculture and other labor-intensive industries.
But the workers were paid less than minimum wage and suffered job discrimination. The Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), at the behest of agricultural powers, turned its back on Mexican workers and the abuses and violations they endured.
What's to say this won't happen again?
And as long as agriculture or other industries require menial labor for low wages, immigrants will continue to take these jobs because they have few other options.
Bush's plan ought to address workers' rights and ensure that everyone, regardless of legal status, is granted a decent wage and the opportunity to pursue the American dream.
If Bush intends to legitimize Mexican immigrants to increase his Latino support in the next election, then such a policy is ill-conceived and grounded in deception.
Mexican immigrants in the United States need legal status, but they need a whole lot more. And they won't be satisfied by Bush's political maneuver.
Carlos Ortega is a free-lance writer living in El Paso, Texas. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.