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U.S. considers residency for illegal Mexicans

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Bush administration is considering a proposal to give the more than 3 million illegal Mexican nationals in the United States legal status to remain, senior administration officials said Monday.

The officials said the idea is just one of several proposals contained in a report due on President Bush's desk this week. The issue also is likely to be considered at a meeting between Bush and Mexican President Vicente Fox, scheduled for September.

"This is the first time in many a long period of time involving our relationship with Mexico and Mexico and the United States are approaching the border from a position of shared responsibility," said White House spokesman Ari Fleischer. "Now we have the president of Mexico and the president of the United States and our governments committed to working together on immigration issues.

CNN's Major Garrett reports on the proposal and who supports it (July 16)

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CNN's Major Garrett on what could be a bold political move  

CNN's John King on the background of the proposal  

Message board: Tackling immigration  

High-level negotiators for both nations also are discussing a proposed agreement on a new guest-worker program under which Mexicans could come legally into the United States on a temporary basis.

One proposal would allow payroll taxes to be deducted from their checks, but that money would not go to the U.S. Treasury. The deductions instead would go into a fund the workers could send back home to their families.

Boon for GOP?

That proposal pleases advocates for the Hispanic community -- according to a recent Gallup poll, nearly two-thirds of which are either immigrants themselves or first generation -- and could bring new support for the Republican Party.

"They can make major inroads not just in the Latino community, but the Catholic Church supports this, the business community supports this, the labor community supports this -- that's a pretty broad coalition," said Cecilia Munoz of the National Council of La Raza.

Bush has been at odds with many members of his own Republican Party in pushing for more immigration and for consideration of the proposal to grant documentation to Mexicans in this country illegally.

Pat Buchanan, the former Republican who left to become the Reform Party presidential candidate, lashed out at the proposal.

"What is taking place is the policy of the Mexican government to dump its poor and its unemployed upon the U.S.," Buchanan told CNN. In the United States, he said, the immigrants "not only get jobs, but American taxpayers educate their children, provide welfare, provide Medicaid, and all the benefits of that, [and] they send their money back to Mexico.

"The U.S. is a country that's got to control its borders," said Buchanan, who is in favor of severely limiting immigration from Mexico.

Reagan pushed legalization plan

Munoz disagreed with Buchanan's premise.

"We had a legalization program in the late 1980s [and] it didn't encourage millions more to come," she said. "What we're really talking about is acknowledging that there's millions of people here who are working, paying taxes, making contributions ... it's really time to bring our system in line with reality."

President Ronald Reagan granted amnesty to illegal immigrants when he signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that affected mostly Latino immigrants living in the United States since 1982.

Of the nearly 4 million illegal immigrants eligible to apply for legal residency under the 1986 law, 55 percent were from Mexico, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service. The law gave immigrants who came to America before 1982 one year, between May 1987 and May 1988, to apply for temporary resident status and permits for employment.

Bush previously has said he wants to address Mexican-U.S. border issues -- something he dealt with frequently when he was governor of Texas. The proposal would be subject to weeks, if not months, of administration review before being recommended to Congress, where a contentious debate would likely ensue.

-- CNN Senior White House Correspondent John King contributed to this story.

• Immigration and Naturalization Service
• National Council of La Raza

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