- The Washington Times - Wednesday, April 26, 2006

MEXICO CITY (AP) — U.S. lobbyists lashed out yesterday at the Mexican “Nothing Gringo” campaign timed for Monday to coincide with the “Day Without Immigrants” boycott in the United States.

The American Chamber of Commerce in Mexico said organizers are risking a backlash and foolishly targeting some of their best allies, because U.S. corporations have actively lobbied Congress for immigration reform, including legalization for many of the 10 million to 12 million illegal aliens in the United States.

Mexicans’ refusal to “buy American” on Monday could further polarize the debate and make reform supporters seem anti-American just as lobbyists are trying to persuade lawmakers to pass a bill that would benefit illegals, said Larry Rubin, the chamber’s chief executive officer.

“This is like shooting oneself in the foot,” Mr. Rubin said. “U.S. companies have been the first to lobby, launching a huge lobbying effort for immigration reform. … Why hurt something that is helping you?”

Migrants and their supporters in the United States are being encouraged to skip work and school and not spend money Monday to demonstrate the illegal aliens’ importance to the U.S. economy.

South of the border, Mexicans are targeting stores and chain restaurants based in the United States.

“That means no Dunkin’ Donuts, no McDonald’s, Burger King, Starbucks, Sears, Krispy Kreme or Wal-Mart,” reads one e-mail making the rounds.

Even activists are confused about which companies are U.S.-owned. Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim bought Sears’ Mexico stores in 1997, and few organizers mention Vips — the chain of ubiquitous Mexican diners — even though they are owned by Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

A quarter of Mexico’s formal private-sector jobs with regular pay are provided by U.S. companies, the chamber said, including Walmex, the Mexican Wal-Mart subsidiary that is the nation’s biggest private employer with 140,000 workers. Delphi Corp., the U.S. auto-parts maker, is second with 70,000 workers.

“Certainly, companies could be hurt,” Mr. Rubin said yesterday.

The chamber represents more than 2,000 U.S. and other foreign companies doing business in Mexico and says its members are responsible for $100 billion of investment in the country.

The companies say they are helping Mexico by providing jobs, but activists counter that they pay so little that Mexicans have little choice but to head north.

Backers of the boycott insisted yesterday that the protest could send a message that U.S. companies should offer better pay and benefits to their Mexican workers.

“They continue to exploit Mexicans with badly paid jobs and no labor rights,” said Roberto Vigil, who works in the Mexico City office of the California immigrants rights group Hermandad Mexicana. “They’re kind of two-faced: They support, but they exploit.”

Unskilled workers at U.S. companies usually start with Mexico’s minimum wage of $4.35 a day. Although many earn more — such as seamstresses, who make an average of $5.89 a day — even these wages pale in comparison with paychecks offered by the same companies north of the border, said the chamber’s Humberto Banuelos.

A cashier at Subway (or a “sandwich artist,” as the company refers to them) earns about $189 a month in Mexico City. In Colorado, Subway cashiers make four times that — $824.

Companies also often hire workers for three-month periods to avoid paying health insurance or other benefits, activists say.

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