MEXICO CITY – Secretary of State Colin Powell (search) said Tuesday that President Bush will place a high priority in his second term on granting legal status to millions of migrants who live illegally in the United States.
Powell spoke at the inaugural session of the U.S.-Mexican Bi-National Commission (search), which annually brings together top officials from both sides to discuss a range of cross-border issues. Powell was joined here by five other members of Bush's Cabinet.
"The president is committed to comprehensive immigration reform as a high priority in his second term, and he will work closely with our Congress to achieve this goal," Powell said, with delegations from both sides in attendance at a Foreign Ministry auditorium.
In separate remarks, Mexican Foreign Secretary Luis Ernesto Derbez made no specific reference to the migration issue but praised the "high level of confidence and understanding between the two countries."
Mexico is the primary source of the 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States. Persuading the United States to push ahead with migration reform is a major goal of President Vicente Fox's (search) administration.
Last January, in an apparent bid for the votes of Hispanics and segments of the U.S. business community, Bush unveiled an ambitious immigration reform proposal whose key feature would provide temporary legal status to illegal migrants provided they are employed.
In the 10 months since Bush spelled out the proposal, it has failed to make any headway.
Powell told reporters Monday night while flying here that with the end of the election season in the United States and with substantial progress in shoring up security along the border, "there could be a more favorable environment" for immigration reform legislation.
He acknowledged, however, that it is not yet clear how the new Congress taking office in January will deal with the issue. Many in Congress oppose granting legal status to undocumented migrants because, they say, that would reward people who broke the law when they crossed the border.
Fox said the time is ripe for a migration accord. "We have done all the analysis, diagnostics and problem solving possible," Fox said in a radio interview Monday. "There's no reason to lose much time."
Earlier, Derbez praised the Bush administration's support for Mexico's efforts to promote consular identification cards (search) that help Mexicans living abroad open bank accounts or apply for a driver's license in some parts of the United States.
Mexico believes immigration reform is sorely needed because of the precarious situation that many undocumented Mexicans in the United States face despite their significant contributions to the U.S. economy. Last week, Mexican Interior Secretary Santiago Creel called U.S. migration policy "absurd."
Bush and Fox first broached the subject of immigration reform less than a month after Bush took office in 2001. Fox said last week he believes that 2005 may finally be the year when significant progress may be possible.
"Neither of our countries will be in elections next year," Fox observed. But Creel warned against "raising expectations beyond what is politically viable and really possible."
Since the September 11 terrorist attacks, migration reform has taken a back seat to enhancing security along the border. U.S. officials say Mexican cooperation has been exemplary in addressing U.S. concerns about terrorists using the border as a transit point for attacks on U.S. soil.
On hemispheric relations, Powell acknowledged Monday night there has been a shift to the left in several South American countries but said he is "not deeply troubled by it at all. I want to work with whoever the people elect in those countries."
He said it wasn't shocking that people in the region are beginning to make different choices when they go to the polls if they haven't seen the kind of progress they were expecting.
As an example of the leftist trend, he cited the election two years ago of Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he said Silva "has been acting quite responsibly with respect to economic and fiscal policy."
Powell reserved judgment on the implications of the election last week of a leftist coalition in Uruguay.