WASHINGTON – Despite recent meetings between high-ranking officials from both sides of the border, experts say they doubt migration reform efforts between the United States and Mexico -- stalled since the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks -- will see any major movement anytime soon.
"At the level of U.S.-Mexico negotiations, it's all show and no go," said Frank Sharry, executive director of the National Immigration Forum (search), a pro-immigration group. "It's a pretense of progress to appeal to domestic constituencies and there's not one serious issue on the table that they're negotiating."
"George W. Bush gave all the signals … that he was very willing to create a new relationship with Mexico," Juan Hernandez, a former Cabinet member of Fox's administration who remains in contact with his government, told Foxnews.com.
"Then Sept. 11 hit and it seems like he has been preoccupied with the rest of the world," he said, adding that Mexico and Canada understand the need to fight terrorism, but feel short-changed on other issues.
Prior to Sept. 11, President Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox (search) were very chummy and it appeared as if Bush was willing to reform the migration system so that undocumented Mexican laborers were at least recognized under U.S. law. The objective was to enable Mexican laborers to continue working in the United States, and by so doing, crack down on human smuggling, exploitation and fake documents.
Clarissa Martinez, director of state public relations for the National Council of La Raza, said the Latino community wants both presidents to ensure that Hispanics who work and pay taxes in the United States are documented and recognized.
But "it’s a complicated set of issues that needs to be addressed and a lot of the debate that you hear does not include all of those complexities," she said. "And simplifying it for political purposes is a disservice to the greater public."
"The Mexicans are now reduced to photo ops" and making it seem as if progress is being made, Sharry said. "Mexico looks like they're establishing friendly bilateral relations after the Iraq chill, and don't hold your breath for any progress."
Last week, Secretary of State Colin Powell and Homeland Security Director Tom Ridge hosted a U.S.-Mexico Binational Commission (search) in which they and other U.S. officials met with Mexican officials, including Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez and Antonio O. Garza Jr., the U.S. ambassador to Mexico.
"Migration still remains a very important issue for both of our nations," Powell said. "We're going to look for ways to move forward step by step to make sure that we can make it safe, legal and in all other ways respectful of our need for labor and the desire to make sure that we treat those who come to our country in a very, very appropriate way."
"There is increasingly a recognition of an urgency" that could propel the issue forward, Garza said. "The president has enunciated, I think, some very clear principles with respect to what should guide our reforms … To try to minimize the importance of this process, I think is misplaced."
Among steps taken so far is the Justice and Equality in the Workplace Program (search), launched in Dallas to inform migrant workers about their rights and responsibilities, and provide avenues for non-English speakers to report violations of U.S. labor laws.
Congress has also begun working on several bills, none of which will see action soon, since lawmakers are trying to wrap up their work before its session ends for the year.
One measure, known as AgJobs, would legalize about 500,000 Mexican farm workers already here and give them wider access to legal aid. The House version, sponsored by Rep. Chris Cannon, R-Utah, now has about 70 co-sponsors.
"It's definitely a priority for the congressman," said Cannon spokeswoman Meghan Riding. "When they come back in January and February, they'll continue the efforts they started."
Earlier this month, Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., a co-sponsor of the Border Security and Immigration Improvement Act (search), told Fox News that a comprehensive temporary worker program will alleviate many problems associated with the current border situation.
But Dan Stein, executive director of the Federation for American Immigration Reform, called the bill a "lame attempt at ethnic pandering ... they don't reflect serious policy proposals."
Flake spokesman Matthew Specht said Flake wants the two governments to kick up the migration reform talks.
"He would love for them to kind of rekindle those talks," Specht said. "Next year, particularly if President Bush and President Fox can get the ball rolling, hopefully we can get some hearings and start marking the bill up."
Many are still hopeful Mexican workers in the United States will eventually be able to come out of the shadows and have the same rights and privileges as others.
"I don't know that we're optimistic but Mexico tends to be a country of great hope," Hernandez said.