Wednesday, July 9, 2003

MEXICO CITY — Manuel de la Cruz, the first U.S. citizen ever to win a seat in Mexico’s Congress, has a modest platform — to make the United States of America a Mexican electoral district.

Mr. de la Cruz, born in Zacatecas, Mexico, but a longtime resident of Norwalk, Calif., is one of six Mexican-Americans who live in the United States and ran for office here in Sunday’s national elections.

Another candidate, Jose Jacques Medina, is awaiting late returns to see if he too will win a seat in the 500-member Congress.

The two are among the leaders of a group of Mexican-Americans, backed by Mexico’s No. 3 political party, who believe that Mexico’s political future is tied to voters on the top side of the Rio Grande.

“There are 23 million Mexicans in the U.S. that need a voice in Mexico,” said Mr. de la Cruz, 53. “Right now, we have a great opportunity to take advantage of that.”

Mexicans and people of Mexican descent now make up the largest and fastest-growing minority group in the United States, creating inextricable bonds between the two nations and the 400 million people who make them up.

Last year, Mexicans in the United States sent nearly $10 billion in remittances to Mexico, while pacts such as the North American Free Trade Agreement make the countries more reliant upon one another than ever before.

And with Mexico’s economy stagnant, hundreds of thousands of Mexicans come into the United States illegally every year.

For Mr. de la Cruz and Mr. Medina, the political relationships between the countries, which have been far from smooth over the past two years, are fast blending together as well.

Roughly 2 million Mexican-Americans are citizens of both nations. In all, 10 million Mexicans living in the United States are eligible to vote in Mexican elections.

Beyond that, however, nearly 20 percent of all Mexicans live in the United States, said Mr. Medina, a labor organizer born in Mexico City who fled north in the early 1970s after being accused of political crimes.

He pledges to remain in his Maywood, Calif., home, should he gain a congressional seat.

“I am Mexican, but I will always live in California, fighting for the emigrant Mexicans who live here.”

Chief among the issues pushed by Mr. de la Cruz and Mr. Medina is securing the vote for more Mexicans living abroad in time for the 2006 elections.

They also support a much-anticipated but long-delayed immigration accord that would allow amnesty and guest-worker status for millions of Mexicans.

Beyond all that, they envision an even greater prize: designating the United States as Mexico’s sixth electoral district.

Mexico’s complex democracy currently divides the country into five districts, each with roughly 20 million voters.

Mr. de la Cruz said he envisions a kind of virtual Mexico north of the border.

“That would be perfect,” he said.

He and Mr. Medina, along with three of the other U.S.-based candidates, ran under the banner of the left-leaning Party of the Democratic Revolution (PRD), Mexico’s third-largest political party.

The PRD now has official committees in California, Illinois and three other states. It envisions raising the yellow-and-black PRD banner in eight more states this year.

“All the way to Hawaii,” Mr. Medina said.

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