Foreign Affairs ministers from ten Central and South American countries met in Mexico Monday and condemned United States proposals to tighten border controls including the building of a wall along parts of the US-Mexico frontier.
Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, Belize, Panama, Colombia and Dominican Republic officials said that U.S. policymakers must accept the principle that immigrants, even those without visas, "are not, and should not be treated as criminals".
The one day meeting ended with a declaration demanding "full protection of human rights" and "observance of labour legislation" for all migrants, regardless of their legal status. They urged the US to set up a guest worker programme and to give legal recognition to the millions of illegal migrants already inside its borders.
The comments are seen as a response to a US bill to increase border fences and criminalize illegal immigration.
The ten countries representatives also pledged to "increase cooperation and dialogue" on reducing illegal immigration and to work to make it easier and less costly for immigrants in the US to send money back home.
Family remittances already constitute the biggest single source of revenue for El Salvador, and in Mexico rank second only to oil exports.
The declaration did not mention the US bill specifically but the joint statement, issued in Mexico City, has been widely interpreted as a response to the bill, which has been already described as "shameful" by Mexican President Vicente Fox.
The bill contemplates the building of a 1,130-km fence along parts of the 3,200 km US-Mexico border. It also proposes that all those living and working illegally in the US should be classified as criminals.
"Partial measures that only seek to toughen immigration policy don't represent a solution" the Mexican and Central American ministers said.
The bill was approved by the House of Representatives last December 16 and has to be considered by the Senate this year.
According to the International Organization for Migrations, 90% of the nearly 1.3 million Guatemalans living in the United States entered the country without visas.
United States is also home to an estimated 15/17 million Mexicans, half of them undocumented as well as to large numbers of Salvadorans and other Central Americans.