Flashback – From the FFVA Labor Division Bulletin, April 18, 2001

- Mexico calls for a guest worker program -

The Mexican government recently announced that they will crack down on illegal Mexicans coming to the U.S. if the U.S. establishes a guest worker program. The Mexican proposals, although still tentative, constitute the first test for a pledge of better cross-border relations adopted by President Bush and Mexican President Vincente Fox. In an interview, President Fox stressed that he is not necessarily seeking permanent residency or U.S. citizenship for these people, just a status that allows them to remain legally in the U.S. for a certain time to work and to enjoy other legal rights and protections.

Any plan emerging from the negotiations to change the legal status of undocumented workers would need approval in Congress, where there is resistance to more generous immigration laws. But Mexican officials are encouraged by the fact that Sen. Phil Gramm (R-Texas) supports allowing more Mexicans into the country legally. Sen. Gramm plans to sponsor a guest worker program permitting more Mexicans to work legally for a limited time period, without placing them on the track toward citizenship.

Under Sen. Gramm’s proposal, a guest worker program would permit adult participants to accept work in the U.S. on an annual or seasonal basis. Year-by-year extensions would be permitted. The U.S., in cooperation with Mexico, would operate a computer registry to monitor entry and exit of guest workers. Seasonal workers who return to Mexico in their off season could receive annual guest worker permits indefinitely. Those guest workers who work for the entire year could reapply and receive up to three consecutive permits, after which they would have to return to Mexico for a year before reapplying.

Undocumented workers already in the U.S. and their employers would have six months to apply for a guest worker permit, which would be automatically granted. During an initial registration period, illegal aliens would receive a one-time-only exemption from deportation and employers would be able to register their undocumented workers without penalty or sanction.

In Mexico, workers would enroll through a system devised by the government of Mexico, which would establish and supervise its own eligibility standards. All guest workers, regardless of where they sign up, would receive identification cards that serve as their documentation for accepting employment in the U.S.

Employers would be required to show that they had made a good-faith effort to hire Americans. Guest workers would receive the same pay and benefits given any other worker in the same job. After the initial six-month grace period, penalties for employment of illegal aliens would be substantially increased and strictly enforced. Hiring an illegal alien after the guest worker program is in effect will, in addition to civil penalties and fines, result in debarment from the guest worker program.

The program will recognize that the current 15.3 percent payroll tax paid by illegal aliens and their employers produces no benefit for the illegal workers. Under the new guest worker program, the 15.3 percent payroll tax will be used first to fund emergency medical care for the guest worker. The bulk of the payroll deduction will go into an IRA account that will be owned by the individual worker and can be withdrawn when the worker leaves the program and returns to Mexico. Sen. Gramm hopes to file his bill during the latter part of April or early May of this year.

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