- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 11, 2004

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Each year, Mexicans living abroad send home millions of dollars to improve their country’s infrastructure and communities, but most cannot vote for the politicians whose districts benefit from these funds.

This week, Mexicans across the United States are making a final pitch to win the right to cast absentee ballots in at least the 2006 presidential election before the Mexican Congress goes to recess on Monday.

“Democracy in Mexico will never be complete until it includes all Mexicans living abroad,” said Guadalupe Gomez, of the Los Angeles-based Zacatecas Civic Front. “We are contributing a great deal … and we deserve the vote.”

Historically, Mexicans living abroad were barred from casting absentee ballots in the country’s elections because of concerns about outside political influence. Mexico’s former ruling Institutional Revolution Party, or PRI, worried that those abroad would vote for the opposition.

“It goes back to the Mexican Revolution,” said Louis DeSipio, associate professor of political science and Latino studies at the University of California at Irvine. “There was a fear that the United States could manipulate the outcome of the elections.”

But supporters of the vote say those fears are no longer relevant. Today, Mexicans abroad have stronger ties with their communities back home because of the Internet and telephone, and they are more likely to leave the country for economic, rather than political, reasons.

More than 60 nations, including the United States, grant their citizens living abroad the right to vote in elections. Because Mexico allows people who become U.S. citizens to retain their Mexican nationality, even some U.S. citizens are seeking the Mexican vote.

Last month, Mexico’s chief election official announced that the country was ready to extend the right to those living abroad. The cost of such an initiative was estimated to be about $145 million.

Proponents are optimistic but cautious. Congress was expected to say it planned to take up the issue by the end of the session, but has yet to do so with less than a week left.

More than 15 proposals have circulated through Congress. The most likely to win would allow only a vote for president, backed by Mexican President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party. But those living abroad want to be able to run in elections and vote for Congress.

“We see the vote for president as a symbol,” said Jorge Mujica, head of the Chicago-based International Coalition of Mexicans Abroad. “The president isn’t the person who can resolve all our problems. Many of our problems have to do with the laws, and Congress makes the laws.”

The number of Mexican immigrants living in the United States nearly doubled in the past decade from 4.3 million in 1990 to an estimated 10 million in 2003, according to U.S. census data. Last year, they sent between $12 billion and $14.5 billion to the Mexican economy, exceeding for the first time income from both foreign investments and tourism.

Much of this money goes directly to families, but funds also are sent home for community projects, which the Mexican government often matches.

“The contribution by Mexicans in the United States is what maintains the economic, political and social stability in Mexico,” said Jorge Arturo Garcia, California president of the PRI, who is seeking the vote.

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