Monday, March 20, 2006

Mexicans see Americans as racist, dishonest and exploitative, while Americans see Mexicans as hardworking and think they are more tolerant than Americans.

A new survey of attitudes the two countries hold toward each other showed the border is more than a geographic divide, but also a fissure in public opinions of the two nations and what their citizens think of each other.

The poll, taken by New York-based Zogby International and the Centro de Investigacion para el Desarrollo AC in Mexico City, found that 62 percent of Mexicans surveyed said the United States is more wealthy than Mexico because “it exploits others’ wealth.” Only 22 percent said it was because the United States is “a free country where people have plenty of opportunity to work.”

Among Americans, 78 percent saw Mexicans as hardworking, and 44 percent saw them as tolerant. Among Mexicans, just 26 percent saw Americans as hardworking, 16 percent saw them as honest and 73 percent said Americans are racist.

“Mexicans think Americans are neither hard workers nor honest,” the report’s authors wrote. “They see them as racist, intolerant and moderately law-abiding.”

The study comes as Congress is debating how to increase immigration enforcement and whether to create a guest-worker program that would allow new foreign workers and current illegal aliens — a majority of whom are Mexican nationals — to apply.

President Bush yesterday called for a “civil” debate, saying the nation has “been through these periods before where the immigration debate can get harsh.”

“And it should not be harsh,” he added.

He repeated his pledge that those who take part in his proposed guest-worker program should not be allowed to join the line for citizenship out of order, but he conceded there’s a question of “what about the person who’s been here since 1987.” He did not answer that question.

The House last year passed an immigration-enforcement bill that calls for building nearly 700 miles of fence on the U.S.-Mexico border, but the new poll says that’s unpopular among both Americans and Mexicans. Fully 90 percent of Mexicans oppose a wall, as do 69 percent of Americans.

Still, the poll found that 62 percent of Americans want their member of Congress to support “more restrictive” immigration laws, while 30 percent support “more open” laws.

While 84 percent of Americans had a favorable opinion of Mexicans, just 27 percent have a favorable opinion of the Mexican government. By contrast, just 36 percent of Mexicans have a favorable opinion of Americans.

And yet nearly half of the Mexicans surveyed said crossing the border and working illegally in the United States would improve their lives — 45 percent said yes, while 47 percent said no.

The U.S. portion of the poll included 1,010 persons; the Mexican portion surveyed 1,000. The U.S. margin of error was 3.2 percentage points; the Mexican margin was 3.1 percentage points.

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