Texas gov says U.S. needs migrants, not border wall

MEXICO CITY Tue Aug 28, 2007 3:45pm EDT

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MEXICO CITY Aug 28 (Reuters) - Texas Gov. Rick Perry urged on Tuesday a reopening of the debate on U.S. immigration laws, which Congress failed to overhaul, saying the United States needed immigrant workers to keep its economy thriving.

Perry, in Mexico with a Texan trade mission seeking opportunities in areas like renewable energy, said the federal government's plan to build a wall along much of the border to keep out illegal immigrants was "idiocy."

"We need those individuals to continue to grow our economy," Perry told a briefing with reporters.

"If you show up illegally, without your card or you're here as a criminal element, I'm for throwing the book at those folks, but the issue of people who want to legally, thoughtfully and appropriately come to America to work and help us build our economy -- we should quickly come up with a program and an identification card to do that."

Congress failed to pass a comprehensive overhaul of immigration laws in June despite heavy lobbying by President George W. Bush.

Following the reform failure, Washington is concentrating on border enforcement -- building a security fence along the Mexican border, deporting undocumented immigrants and trying to prevent companies from hiring illegal migrants.

Perry, a Republican, said it was important to separate immigration from security issues, which Texas has dealt with on its stretch of the Mexican border by deploying more guards.

"We know how to deal with border security, and you don't do it by building a fence," Perry said, ahead of a meeting with Mexican President Felipe Calderon.

An estimated 11 million Mexicans work in the United States, around half of them illegally. They sent home a record $23 million to their families in remittances last year, Mexico's second-biggest source of foreign currency after oil exports.

At least 275 Mexicans died trying to cross the border in the first six months of this year, as tougher security pushed undocumented migrants to risk more remote, dangerous routes into the United States.

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