Union Tribune

July 12, 2002 

Mexicans aim a boycott at their homeland
Those in U.S. seeking south-of-border vote


WASHINGTON Mexican immigrants living in the United States are
trying to apply economic muscle to their long-frustrated attempt to
win the right to vote in Mexican elections.

Several dozen immigrant organizations are calling on their
countrymen in the United States to withhold for five days, Monday
through July 19, the money they send home to their families.

While largely a symbolic gesture, the "remittance boycott" would
dramatize the immigrants' contribution to the Mexican economy.
Mexicans living in the United States send home about $9 billion
annually, making their U.S.-earned dollars Mexico's third-largest
source of foreign currency, after oil and manufacturing.

"We have waited 60 years to be able to vote," Julio Cesar Aragon, a
Rhode Island resident and leader of one of the immigrant groups. "If we have waited that long, they can wait for five days. That is the best way we know to pressure the government."

When Mexico's expatriates in the United States talk, politicians in
Mexico City listen. The days when they were scorned as misfits who
abandoned their home country are over. Now President Vicente Fox
hails them as heroes and models of unselfish, patriotic dedication.

But the heroes are now saying that the remittances may be only the beginning of their protest.

"Maybe by September we'll be ready to announce a boycott of Mexican products," said Jorge Mujica, a Chicago resident and secretary of the International Commission of Mexicans Abroad. Mujica cites beer and bread as two of the many goods imported from Mexico and distributed nationwide to the surging immigrant community. "The plan would be to add a new product each week until this problem is resolved."

Hurdles ahead

In principle, at least, politicians across the Mexican political spectrum have lined up to support the voter-rights drive. But the effort has run into a formidable series of logistical hurdles about how to register voters, how to let them cast their ballots, and how to regulate the financing and conduct of electoral campaigns that cross the border.

The effort is also nagged by concerns that Mexican political
campaigning in the United States could stoke a backlash among those alarmed about the number of Mexican immigrants in the United States, which has surged from 800,000 in 1970 to more than 8 million today.

Dozens of countries, including the United States, provide ways for
their overseas citizens to participate in home elections. Yet, as a
report by Mexico's federal election institute noted, "the magnitude,
diversity and distribution and mobility of the Mexican population that resides abroad make Mexico a case unique in the world."

Mexican officials estimate that if Mexicans living in the United States vote, the 2006 presidential election could draw 12 million votes from the United States, including 3.3 million from people born in the United States to immigrant parents.

Delal Baer, a Mexico expert at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies, said concern is growing in Mexico about the
political ramifications of mobilizing large numbers of immigrants to
vote in Mexican elections.

Legal changes

Prospects for a big turnout were enhanced with a 1996 Mexican law
allowing dual nationality. That law gave immigrants who had become U.S. citizens the opportunity to vote, but it also required them to return to Mexico to cast their ballots.

That logistical problem set the stage for the current political campaign for the right to cast ballots from the United States. It requires authorizing legislation from the Mexican Congress.

"There is a question as to whether Americans would begin to view the Mexican immigrants as having dual allegiances, and that could get ugly," Baer said. "It could cause tension between immigrant
communities and U.S. nationals, and people in leadership positions in Mexico have been sensitive to the potential for problems."

Mark Krikorian, director of a Washington think tank that seeks to limit immigration, said Mexican's dual nationality law "provides for dual citizenship for all practical purposes."

Meanwhile, said Krikorian, the U.S. government has shown an
ambivalent approach to dual citizenship.

Fears told

"We don't formally acknowledge dual citizenship, but we recognize that it exists," he said. 

Nevertheless, he said, the potential for political fallout is great, given the sheer size of the Mexican immigrant community, which makes up more than a quarter of all immigrants in the United States.

"If there are television images of people lining up to vote at Mexican consulates, that's politically explosive and it might get Congress moving to finally prohibit dual citizenship," Krikorian said.

Jorge Mujica rejects that scenario. 

"Nobody questions our loyalty when we join the military," he said.
"Nobody questions the loyalty of Jews." 

American Jews are allowed to vote in Israeli election. More than 40
other countries provide a similar right to expatriates.

Rudy Arredondo, a former union organizer and political activist in
Maryland, said the drive for the vote is just the beginning of the
political mobilization of Mexican immigrants.

"We are in the process of forming a political party in the United States," said Arredondo. "Ultimately, we will be running candidates for the (Mexican) Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Julio Cesar Aragon, who became a permanent U.S. resident in 1988
and operates a Rhode Island day care center, aspires to serve in the government of his native land. It is a uniquely Mexican version of the American dream in the era of mass immigration.

"With the favor of God, I will do it," he said.

Jerry Kammer: (202) 737-7681; jerry.kammer@copleydc.com