Immigrants' motives

A new survey provides valuable information on the motives of illegal entrants from Mexico, helping frame the debate over whether to create a guest-worker program and a track toward permanent residency.

The study by the Pew Hispanic Center seems to show that most illegal entrants now in the United States would like to stay here if they can - but an even larger share would take part in a temporary immigration program that would require they return to Mexico.
The findings were seized upon by the most outspoken opponent of real immigration reform, U.S. Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., who sees vindication in the results: "The vast majority of illegal aliens polled have no intention of returning to their countries of origin."
To Tancredo and his allies in the Federation for American Immigration Reform, "guest worker" is a lie. They see proof in the Pew study, which is based on interviews with nearly 5,000 people at Mexican diplomatic missions coast to coast.
U.S. Rep. Raśl Grijalva doesn't see any surprises in these survey results, either, but he views them as important. "This is the reality - these people already are in our country," Grijalva said in an interview. "You can't assume you're going to have that workforce just go away."
The Tucson Democrat touches on a part of the immigration debate that gets little attention in a politically charged atmosphere fueled by those who view sealing the border as the only priority. Grijalva is talking about America's end game.
That's the issue all of Congress is supposed to be taking up, too, though it won't be in time to stop the coming season of hot-weather border deaths in the deserts of Arizona. President Bush has other priorities, and no one is predicting anymore when this one will get his full attention.
When it does come to the fore, it should include provisions that allow us to control access at the border, permit Mexican nationals to work here legally on a temporary basis, and create a track for permanent residency. Without all three considerations, none has a chance to work - unless Tancredo and FAIR are considering some kind of illegal-immigrant roundup.
"I would hope it doesn't need to come to that," Grijalva says. "I think that would be a devastating moment in our nation's history."
The motives of illegal immigrants already in the country should certainly figure into the debate over immigration reform. But what they want must be balanced against the needs of the United States. In many respects, including the jobs that immigrants are willing to do, these interests dovetail.
But the most important survey is the one that moves immigrants one way or the other once this country finally arrives at a workable national policy.
● To see complete results of the Survey of Mexican Migrants, visit online.