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Last Updated: Thursday, 8 January, 2004, 03:01 GMT
Why Mexicans are sceptical

By Matt Frei
BBC correspondent in North Carolina

A Mexican Leo Morales stands in a field in Canyon County, Idaho
Many Hispanics wonder if the plan will amount to much
Hundreds of Mexican immigrants gathered outside the Mexican consulate in Raleigh, North Carolina, in freezing temperatures before dawn.

They were clutching documents, Mexican identity papers and applications for US driving licences, which are due to expire in the coming weeks.

Luis, 45, from Guadalajara showed me his North Carolina driving licence.

"I've been working here, living here and paying taxes for 20 years but this is the only legal American document I possess and it runs out tomorrow!"

Like hundreds of other people at the Mexican consulate here, which was established three years ago because the Mexican population of North Carolina had mushroomed from nothing to 300,000 in just 10 years, Luis keenly awaited the president's comments in Washington.

Empty promises?

Rumours circulated and reports had been published in the local Spanish language newspapers that the president's new initiative would grant undocumented immigrants from Mexico with something that had eluded them for all these years: renewable work visas and equal rights with American citizens.

When the president finally delivered his speech in the afternoon, there was widespread relief tinged with scepticism.

I am pleased he has made this announcement but let's face it, the president wants our votes and we are after all the fastest-growing minority in the United States
Martin Cruz
As Luis put it: "He still needs to get this law passed by Congress and we have heard so many promises before."

I spoke to another Mexican immigrant - 50-year-old Martin Cruz, who became an American citizen 10 years ago and had voted in the last two elections.

"This is all about politics," he said. "I am pleased he has made this announcement but let's face it, the president wants our votes and we are after all the fastest-growing minority in the United States."

Winning votes

Last year, a new census established that there were indeed now 38.8 million people of Hispanic origin living in the United States compared to 36.4 million African Americans.

In the last election, 90% of black voters cast their ballot in favour of Al Gore while only 6% voted for Mr Bush.

US President George W Bush
Bush portrayed himself as caring
This compares with 35% of Hispanic voters who voted for the Democrats - and the vast majority of Hispanics did not go to the polls at all.

Both Democrats and Republicans have made the shrewd calculation that there are millions of Hispanic votes up for grabs in key states like Florida, New Mexico, Arizona and North Carolina.

In his speech in the East Room of the White House, in front of an audience that included cabinet members, the Mexican ambassador - whom the president introduced in broken Spanish - and immigrant lobby groups, President Bush displayed himself as a compassionate conservative.

He vowed that the millions of immigrants who were doing necessary jobs in America needed to be embraced by this society and not be left living in its shadows.


This would have been music not just to the ears of people like Luis in North Carolina but also to Mexican President Vicente Fox with whom the White House has disagreed heartily over the war in Iraq.

Ironically, President Bush first mooted his immigration reforms five days before 11 September 2001 when President Fox visited him in Washington.

The events that unfolded five days later shelved the plans that were resurrected on Wednesday.

It is far too early to tell whether the reform package, which has already been lambasted on talk radio and by right-wing Republicans - as well as decried too little by left-wing Democrats - will actually be passed in Congress.

But at least it acknowledges the demographic reality of America's Hispanic minority majority.

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