updated 11/8/2004 10:08:44 PM ET 2004-11-09T03:08:44

Secretary of State Colin Powell will meet Tuesday with Mexican leaders who are eager for a post-election assessment of President Bush’s long dormant proposal to give legal status to millions of U.S.-based undocumented aliens.

Powell was flying to Mexico on Monday with five fellow Cabinet members for talks with President Vicente Fox and his senior aides. High-level talks are held each year to grapple with a series of cross-border issues.

Last January, in an apparent bid for the vote of Hispanics and U.S. business interests, Bush unveiled an ambitious migration proposal. Its key feature was to provide temporary legal status to many of the more than 8 million migrants who live in the United States without U.S. government approval. Migrants would have to provide proof of employment to qualify.

With the U.S. election over, the administration is freer to deal more openly on the migration issue with Mexico, the source of most illegal migrants.

U.S. policy called ‘absurd’
Mexico supports changing U.S. migration rules, objecting to the precarious situation that many Mexicans face despite their significant contributions to the U.S. economy. Last week, Mexican Interior Secretary Santiago Creel called U.S. migration policy “absurd.”

The administration has moved cautiously on migration changes, believing that strengthening cross-border security transcended all other border issues since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. U.S. officials say Mexico’s cooperation in enhancing security has been exemplary.

In suggesting last January that the time for migration overhaul has arrived, Bush said the present system has “millions of hardworking men and women condemned to fear and insecurity in a massive undocumented economy.”

Bush and Fox first broached the subject less than a month after Bush took office in 2001. Fox said last week be believes 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.”

Arizona proposition may cloud prospects
The prospects for change may have suffered a setback last Tuesday when Arizona voters approved, 56 percent to 44 percent, Proposition 200, a state ballot initiative aimed at keeping illegal immigrants from voting and obtaining some government services.

Voters ignored appeals for a “no” vote from Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Arizona’s Democratic Gov. Janet Napolitano. The vote could reinforce the view of many in Congress who believe granting legal status would reward people who broke the law by entering the country without permission.

Mexico’s Foreign Relations Department said the Arizona initiative would “foment racial discrimination and limit (migrants’) access to basic services like health and education.”

Powell is being accompanied to Mexico by Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, Interior Secretary Gale Norton, Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta and Housing and Urban Development Secretary Alphonso Jackson.

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