Latin American diplomats to protest U.S. immigration bill

Latin American diplomats teamed up on Monday to lobby Washington against a tough immigration plan that would include a large wall along the Mexico-U.S. border to keep out illegal immigrants. Foreign ministers from 11 Latin American countries gathered in the coastal city of Cartagena to discuss ways of defeating a bill making its way through U.S. Congress that would make it harder for undocumented immigrants to get jobs and would authorize construction of a fence along parts of the 2,000-mile (3,200 kilometers ) Mexico-U.S. border.

Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco said migrant-receiving countries such as the United States are overlooking the major benefits of migrant workers. Immigrants' contribution to U.S. development "has been fundamental," she said. "But due to September 11, the pendulum seems to have shifted in the opposite direction and migration is looked upon with a distrusting eye."

Prior to the meeting, Guatemalan Foreign Minister Jorge Briz said the countries will use a full arsenal, using Latin America's Roman Catholic clergy, immigration associations, regular citizens, foreign ministries and more to convince the Americans that the bill is not good for the United States or Latin America. "We're going to use everything we have on this lobby," Briz said.

The countries meeting in Cartagena, from Mexico, Central American nations, Colombia, Ecuador and the Dominican Republic, met in January in Mexico City over the same issue, demanding guest-worker programs and legalization of undocumented migrants in the United States. At that meeting, they also condemned proposals for tougher border enforcement.

The U.S. House of Representatives already approved the bill in December and the Senate next month begins looking at a version. Authorities estimate there are about 11 million undocumented migrants in the United States, the majority of them coming from Latin American nations. While most U.S. immigrants come from Mexico, countries as far away Colombian and Ecuador also have important numbers of migrants working in the United States.

These workers have come to play an important part in Latin American economies as they send millions of dollars home to their families each year. Mexican lawmakers announced Sunday they were sending a delegation to Washington this week to push for a migration accord and lobby against the border wall.

The one-day meeting was being held in Cartagena's Convention Center, just a few yards (meters) away from elaborate, thick walls that encircle Cartagena's old town. The walls, thicker than the length of a car and topped by cannons were built in the 16th century to protect this Caribbean port city from marauding pirates and other foreign intruders, reports the AP.

N.U.