Gov. Mike Leavitt has modified his views on illegal immigration and California's Proposition 187 after meeting with members of Mexico's new government.
Leavitt said he still is neutral on the proposition's aim of denying most state health and school services to undocumented workers and their children. But he said he now believes Mexico deserves an equal voice in solving the immigration problem.The change follows Leavitt's trip to Mexico City this month as part of a 50-member trade delegation.
"This trip was good for sensitizing him," said state Rep. Pete Suazo, D-Salt Lake City, a trip delegate and one of two Hispanics on Capitol Hill. "The more he's exposed to these minority issues, the better for him and the better for the state."
The four-day Mexico trip included talks between Leavitt and four senior Cabinet members appointed by newly elected Mexico President Ernesto Zedillo - talks the governor said showed Mexican officials "have a fairly sophisticated view of this issue."
"They appear to understand the financial aspect of it," Leavitt said. "There is some level of acknowledgment of (immigration's) impact in this country."
In meetings with Zedillo's ministers of foreign affairs, public education, commerce and transpor- tation, all said free trade will create more Mexican jobs and reduce incentives to migrate north. It is a position Leavitt shares.
"If you can improve the economy," he said, "there's no question that a lot of other social and cultural problems will be relieved."
Prop. 187 passed Nov. 8 in what supporters said was a message to the federal government to tighten control of the U.S.-Mexico border. A federal judge in California has blocked it from taking effect, at least until a trial determines its constitutionality.
Leavitt has refused to comment on the legality of Prop. 187, in spite of widespread Republican backing of the measure and pressure from Latin American leaders to condemn it. Nor is the Utah governor commenting on growing Republican talk of expanding Prop. 187 nationwide.
Members of California's delegation to the U.S. House have proposed a national ban on all government services to illegal immigrants. Incoming House Speaker Newt Gingrich has appointed immigration hard-liner and five-term California Rep. Elton Gallegly to a House immigration task force.
And the GOP "Contract With America" - signed by more than 300 Republican House candidates, including Utah Reps. Jim Hansen and Enid Waldholtz - calls for denying federal aid to all immigrants, legal and illegal, as part of reforming the U.S. welfare system.
"These are agonizing, difficult public policy decisions," Leavitt said. "But they all come back to the same roots: There is a limited amount of resources, and you want to use those resources to the maximum benefit of the most people."