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Mexico Rebukes Wilson Over Immigrant Plan


MEXICO CITY — In a harshly worded rebuke of California Gov. Pete Wilson's immigration proposals, Mexican Foreign Relations Secretary Fernando Solana said it would violate the Mexican constitution for his country to stop people from crossing into the United States.

"The proposal you make that Mexico help impede the flow of persons toward our border is unacceptable," Solana said in a statement issued late Thursday, the first official Mexican response to Wilson's controversial offensive against illegal immigrants, most of whom are from Mexico.

The secretary also chided Wilson about the abuse of Mexican immigrants in California and reminded him of the role that Mexican workers played in building his state's economy.

"The place that California occupies in the world . . . is due in large part to the efficient, responsible and often underpaid work of Mexicans," Solana said. "The enormous contribution that Mexicans have made to the state of California throughout history should not be lost sight of."

Responding after a speech Friday in Sacramento, Wilson said he rejects the Mexican interpretation of their constitution.

"The idea that it is against their constitution I frankly reject. Their constitution is very much our constitution. Their reading of it is not one that we have assigned to it. It is true you cannot prevent people from moving internally within the country. . . . But clearly it's different when you're talking about leaving the country."

Wilson said Solana's response was not adequate and again called on President Clinton to use the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Mexico wants, as leverage to induce the nation to do more to stop its citizens from entering the United States illegally.

He said the Mexican response was "predictable because the President of the United States has not pushed it. He should."

In recent weeks, pressure has built in Mexico for some form of government response to Wilson's volleys against illegal immigration. Commentators have strongly condemned Wilson's declarations as xenophobic throwbacks to earlier anti-Mexican campaigns in the United States, especially during the 1930s and 1950s.

Wilson, in public statements and in letters to Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari and others, has called on the Mexican government to assist in turning back the flow of immigrants headed toward the U.S.-Mexico frontier in search of better lives and reunions with family members.

In a spirited defense of expatriate rights, Solana pointedly noted the frequent violations of human rights suffered by Mexican nationals living in the United States.

"It's a fact that Mexican immigrants suffer occasional violence and violations of their human rights," Solana said.

In recent years, Mexican officials, eager to improve trade with their powerful neighbor, have refrained from strident denunciations of U.S. treatment of immigrants. The secretary's statement, while couched in diplomatic language, nonetheless represents a return to that nationalistic theme.

How exactly Mexican authorities might attempt to significantly alter the northward immigration flow is not clear. Wilson has suggested, among other things, that Mexican authorities disperse the daily crowds that gather at popular crossing points in Tijuana as they prepare to cross into the United States after dark.

During a recent trip to the border at San Diego, Wilson suggested that Mexican authorities could shoo away prospective border-jumpers.

That suggestion was met with scorn in Mexico as an attempt to limit the right of citizens to leave the country.

Few analysts in Mexico believe that the government would embark on such an unpopular policy, particularly with the approach of an election in which Salinas' long-dominant Institutional Revolutionary Party faces challenges from the left and the right.

In his statement, Solana specifically alluded to Mexicans' often-utilized right to travel freely through their nation--and to leave Mexico when they wish.

"In our country," Solana said, "there is absolute freedom of travel; we can leave our territory whenever we want and enter it whenever we decide to."

Apart from the political fallout likely to result from any move by Mexico to restrict emigration, such actions could also have potentially far-reaching social effects.

For years, analysts note, the outbound movement of Mexican citizens has served as a safety valve for a nation that is unable to provide enough opportunities to its expanding population.

Solana also rejected repeated charges that immigrants take jobs from U.S. citizens.

"In the specific case of migratory workers," Solana said, "regardless of the type of work they do, they undoubtedly fill a role that the United States has not been able to satisfy."

Times staff writer Daniel M. Weintraub contributed to this report from Sacramento.

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