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Mexico cheers backing of immigrant bill by panel

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

President Vicente Fox of Mexico said the vote was the result of five years of work dating to the start of his presidential term in 2000, and puts Mexico one step closer toward the government's goal of ''legalization for everyone" who works in the United States.

''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 that 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, mainly Mexicans.

But US ambassador Tony Garza warned Mexicans on Monday that the proposal still faces a long, difficult path through Congress.

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

The bill is designed to strengthen enforcement of US borders, regulate the flow into the country of so-called guest workers and determine the legal future of the estimated 11 million immigrants living in the United States illegally.

The bill would double the Border Patrol and authorizes a ''virtual wall" of unmanned vehicles, cameras and sensors to monitor the US-Mexico border. It also allows more visas for nurses and agriculture workers, and shelters humanitarian organizations from prosecution if they provide non-emergency assistance to illegal residents.

The most controversial provision would permit illegal aliens currently in the country to apply for citizenship without first having to return home, a process that would take at least six years.

Fox is to meet with President Bush starting tomorrow in Cancun.

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