Undocumented Immigrants Willing to Join Temporary Guest Worker Program

Dave Montgomery, Knight Ridder, Mar. 2

WASHINGTON—A new survey of undocumented immigrants from Mexico shows that most want to become permanent residents of the United States but would participate in a temporary guest worker program envisioned by President Bush.

The study by the Pew Hispanic Center, released Wednesday and based on nearly 5,000 interviews, also offers a first-of-a-kind statistical snapshot of illegal immigrants. More than 40 percent came to the United States within the last five years, according to the survey, and as many as one-half say they have children in U.S. schools.

They tend to be young, predominately male, struggle with the English language and gravitate toward jobs in construction, manufacturing, and the hospitality industry. Their yearly income ranges from $5,200 to $26,000.

They are better educated than their counterparts in Mexico, but poorly educated by U.S. standards.

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The Pew Center’s Survey of Mexican Migrants shows that the Bush proposal has overwhelming support among its intended beneficiaries. By a four-to-one margin—71 percent to 18 percent—immigrants said they would participate in a program that would allow them to work in the United States but require their eventual return to Mexico.

By a similar margin, 72 per cent to 17 percent, the participants supported permanent legalization for migrants who have lived in the United States for five years, held a steady job and avoided entanglements with the law.

Another criticism of Bush’s proposal—primarily from Democrats and allied groups—is that it fails to provide an avenue for permanent legal status and eventual U.S. citizenship.

Nearly 60 percent said they want to stay in the United States “as long as I can” or “for the rest of my life.” But 27 percent, displaying strong ties to their home country, said they wanted to return home after five years or less.

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—Fifty-four percent said they speak little or no English. Another 44 percent said their English proficiency ranges from some to a lot.

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