Mexico cheers Senate committee bill

Mexicans cheered a proposal approved by the Senate Judiciary Committee to legalize undocumented migrants and provide temporary work visas, crediting huge marches of migrants across the United States as the decisive factor behind the vote.

Mexican President Vicente Fox seemed eager to take a share of the credit for Monday's committee vote, saying it was "the result of five years' of work," referring to the start of his presidential term in late 2000.

"This is good news," he said. "We're in the final stretch" toward the government's goal of legalization for all migrant workers.

"My recognition and respect for all the Hispanics and all the Mexicans who have made their voice heard," Fox said. "We saw them turn out this weekend all across the United States, and that's going to count for a lot as we move forward."

Some Mexican media outlets were even more euphoric, predicting final approval for the committee bill as drafted, and suggesting the weekend demonstrations showed Mexico still holds some sway over former territories it lost in the 1846-'48 Mexican-American War.

"With all due respect to Uncle Sam, this shows that Los Angeles has never stopped being ours," reporter Alberto Tinoco said on the Televisa television network's nightly news broadcast, referring to a Saturday march in Los Angeles that drew an estimated 500,000.

But U.S. ambassador Tony Garza warned Mexicans on Monday that the proposal still faces a long, difficult path.

"The debate will no doubt be heated and at times contentious," Garza wrote in an open letter. "The debate in the Senate is only one part of the lengthy process."

Fox also noted that "this is just a first step. It's in the Senate. There's still the House of Representatives, and there's still a long way to go."

Fox has been pushing for a migration accord that would grant some form of legal status to many of the estimated 6 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States. He is likely to bring up the topic when he meets with U.S. President George W. Bush starting Thursday in the Caribbean resort city of Cancun, reports the AP.