Mexican politicians covet rich harvest of votes in U.S. Immigrants could sway election back home

December 07, 1998|By N.Y. TIMES NEWS SERVICE

TIJUANA, Mexico -- It is the year 2000. Millions of Mexican immigrants line up outside polling places, not only in Los Angeles, Brooklyn and other major locations in the United States where Mexicans have settled, but in hundreds of towns across the country, preparing to vote in Mexico's presidential elections.

Thousands of Mexican election officials have fanned out across the United States to supervise the balloting, which caps a campaign in which candidates barnstormed through Mexican population centers in dozens of American states. They lambasted U.S. policies, unpopular in Mexico, on immigration, narcotics and other matters.

Fiction? No, this is the scenario that emerges from a recent Mexican government study, which, at the request of the Mexican Congress, offers detailed logistical options and budgetary estimates for extending the vote to the estimated 10 million Mexicans living in the United States.

"It is viable," the report concludes.

Millions of potential votes are at stake, perhaps 15 percent of the Mexican electorate, and the Mexican Congress must decide in coming months whether to approve any of the options the report outlines.

In the month since the report's publication, opposition leaders have praised its proposals as a long-overdue attempt to extend suffrage to migrant workers who have been disenfranchised both in Mexico and the United States. But President Ernesto Zedillo's allies in the governing Party of the Institutional Revolution, known as the PRI, have lampooned the proposals as too costly and complicated.

The debate gained volume last week, as prominent U.S. academics joined Mexican leaders on both sides of the fray during a conference at Tijuana's Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a government-financed research organization.

"The implications of all this are frightening," said Rodolfo O. de la Garza, a professor of government at the University of Texas, contending that an extended display of Mexican politicking on U.S. soil would provoke a nativist fury in the United States directed not only at migrants but also at Mexican-Americans. "When the rocks start flying, xenophobic Americans are not going to ask for an ID card," he said.

But Wayne Cornelius, a political science professor at the University of California at San Diego, supported the proposal, saying, "I consider these voting proposals to be of fundamental importance for the democratic transition in Mexico."

Nearly 10 million potential Mexican voters live north of the border, including 7.1 million Mexican-born immigrants and 2.7 million adult children of Mexican-born parents, who could also exercise the right to vote under the Mexican Constitution, the report said.

Six ways were suggested for Mexicans to cast ballots in the United States. Most would involve establishing polling places in consulates, churches, Mexican-owned businesses and immigrant homes. The report also outlines the possibility of voting by mail or telephone.

Pub Date: 12/07/98

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