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Pacific Currents: Mexicans in U.S. want to vote – in Mexico

Seattle Post Intelligencer (12/13/2004)

By Mary Lou Pickel

Mexico City — Luis Perez, a lawyer, has lived in the United States for 10 years, yet he can't vote in the United States or in his native Mexico.

As many as 10 million Mexican immigrants in the United States are essentially disenfranchised because they aren't American citizens and their own country has no system of absentee balloting.

For years, Mexican politicians have talked about opening the polls to Mexicans living abroad, but nothing has changed.

This year, delegations of Mexican migrants from the United States have come to Mexico City to lobby politicians for the right to vote in the 2006 Mexican presidential election, which is expected to be highly contested.

This year, delegations of Mexican migrants from the United States have come to Mexico City to lobby politicians for the right to vote in the 2006 Mexican presidential election, which is expected to be highly contested.

The 40-year-old mother of three was in Mexico City last week meeting with Mexican President Vicente Fox and other politicians to push for the vote in 2006. Garcia moved to Atlanta nearly 20 years ago from Mexico City and runs a migrant worker aid center in Duluth. She was elected by community members to represent several U.S. Southern states in the Mexican government's Institute of Migrants Abroad.

Mexicans living in the United States repatriated $13.3 billion dollars last year according to the National Bank of Mexico. That foreign currency income is second only to Mexico's oil exports. The cash supports family members and pays for public works in migrants' hometowns.

"More and more, it's the Mexicans abroad who are supporting the economy," said Perez, who moved to Atlanta a decade ago to study law and ended up staying. "We exercise so much influence culturally and monetarily that we should obtain some type of method to cast votes from the U.S."

All three of Mexico's major political parties -- Fox's PAN; the PRI which ruled Mexico in a virtual dictatorship for 71 years; and the leftist PRD -- have voting proposals before Mexico's Congress.

But time is running out. Congress ends its session tomorrow and unless legislators return for a special session early next year and approve a plan, it will be too late to put mechanisms in place for the July 2006 presidential vote.

Mexico City political science professor Jose Antonio Crespo says there's little chance a voting measure will pass in time.

Absentee voting would likely take place at Mexican consulates around the United States and would have to be overseen by officials from the Mexican Elections Institute -- a system that would be complex and expensive to establish.

Aside from the logistical problems of how to register millions of migrants who may or may not have reliable documents, the question remains, which party would migrants favor?

"The biggest challenge to passing a voting bill is, Mexican politicians are afraid of the unknown," said Jaime Chahin, dean of the College of Applied Arts at Texas State University in San Marcos. "If they pass this law, what will be the consequence for national elections in Mexico?"

The traditional wisdom is that migrants would vote for the opposition. Most left Mexico because they could not make a living and they have a low opinion of those running the country.

In years past, migrants would have likely opposed the Institutional Revolutionary Party, which ran Mexico for 71 years, until it lost the presidency in 2000 to Fox's conservative National Action Party, or PAN.

However, the PRI is now in the opposition and many Mexicans are disillusioned with Fox because he has been unable to make good on his campaign promises to increase employment and improve public safety. "It's very difficult to tell," Chahin said. "Mexicans in the exterior are not homogeneous. They have not developed party loyalty," he said.

Al Rojas, a retired labor activist from Sacramento and national coordinator for the National Campaign for the Absentee Vote, says he and his friends came to Mexico City on their own dime for an answer from Mexico's politicians.

"Si" or "No," he said. "Whatever it is, we'll take the answer back to our people."