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Wednesday, June 16, 2004

HoustonChronicle.com - Fox introduces bill to let Mexicans vote from abroad

HoustonChronicle.com - Fox introduces bill to let Mexicans vote from abroad

June 16, 2004, 7:31AM

Fox introduces bill to let Mexicans vote from abroad
By IOAN GRILLO
Copyright 2004 Houston Chronicle Foreign Service
MEXICO CITY -- On the eve of a tour of the United States, President Vicente Fox on Tuesday sent Congress a bill that would give millions of Mexicans living abroad the right to vote in the 2006 presidential election.

The bill was modeled after a compromise hammered out by the country's three major political factions -- Fox's National Action Party, the leftist Democratic Revolution Party and the former ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI.

Members of all three parties on Tuesday voiced support for Fox's measure and predicted that Congress would begin the review process immediately.

If approved, the proposal would affect an estimated 10 million Mexicans living in the United States. Under current laws, they must return to Mexico on Election Day to vote.

Unveiling the bill in a ceremony at his presidential residence, Fox said Mexicans living abroad have been denied their constitutional right to vote for too long.

"We need equality and justice for all Mexicans, including those who live outside our borders," Fox said. "The basis of democracy is that every citizen has this right."

The bill would require Mexico's Federal Electoral Institute to set up mechanisms to allow Mexicans to vote from any country. The government's election agency would decide if those votes would be sent by mail, electronically or though Mexican consulates.

The Fox proposal, however, would require Mexicans to return home sometime before the election to register to vote.

Mexican immigrant groups have lobbied against such a requirement, arguing that it would inhibit undocumented Mexicans working in the United States from voting.

"People are not going to risk getting caught by the U.S. Border Patrol so they can register," said Jorge Mujica, secretary-general of the Chicago-based International Coalition for Mexicans Abroad. Half of the 10 million Mexicans living in the United States are undocumented, according the coalition.

Immigrant groups are also disappointed that the bill does not allow Mexicans abroad to vote in congressional elections and would not create seats in Congress for their representatives.

"We need Mexican immigrant senators and deputies who will fight for our rights," Mujica said. "We certainly support our country enough to earn those rights."

Mexicans in the United States sent home an estimated $13 billion last year. The remittances were Mexico's second-largest source of foreign currency, after oil.

Rep. Juan Jose Garcia of the Democratic Revolution Party said he was confident the bill would be approved this year. "All the parties," he said, "have (signified) that they are in favor of reform."

But Mujica said he was concerned that the bill might run into a roadblock in Congress. Similar proposals have been debated on and off since 1988 but have not drawn the support of the president. Until 2000, the PRI controlled the presidency, and its leaders feared that Mexicans abroad would vote en masse for the opposition.

Now, however, Rep. Laura Martinez of the PRI said she is optimistic that a bill could be approved before the 2006 elections.

"We are dedicated to giving all Mexicans their democratic rights," Martinez said. But "it has to be done in a way that ensures the ballots are secure."

In any case, the proposal could be approved without support from the PRI. The party has 224 representatives in the 500-seat Chamber of Deputies, and the bill can be approved with 251 votes.

In September, leaders of several Mexican immigrant groups plan to visit Mexico to lobby for the bill in Congress, Mujica said.

Martinez said she was concerned that the president will use his trip to the United States to court potential Mexican voters.

Starting today, Fox will make a three-day trip to Chicago, Minneapolis and Detroit, home to about 2 million Mexicans. During the trip he is scheduled to address Mexican immigrant advocacy groups, including the International Coalition for Mexicans Abroad.

"Fox wanted to come to Chicago with something for us," Mujica said.

Under Mexican law, Fox cannot run for re-election. Many opinion polls, however, have concluded that his wife, Marta Sahagun, is among the most popular presidential candidates.

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