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Mexico Fights Prop. 187--Delicately : Politics: The government is seeking to avoid the appearance of interfering in the affairs of a neighboring state.

October 29, 1994|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — Responding to nationalist outrage here over California's Proposition 187, the Mexican government is sponsoring a delicate but concerted campaign to defeat the state ballot measure without violating one of this nation's most cherished policies--non-interference in other nations' internal affairs.

In recent interviews, Mexico's point man on the issue, Deputy Foreign Secretary Andres Rozental, has condemned the proposal to deny public services to undocumented aliens in California and confirmed the Mexican government's formal efforts to fight it.

But in defining Mexico's strategy to block an initiative that might affect hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexicans in California, Rozental also described the tricky balancing act facing this nation, most affected by the proposal.

"Without interfering with the United States, the government of Mexico will work actively to prevent the passage of the anti-immigration initiative 187," he declared recently, responding to a torrent of emotional challenges to the California ballot measure.

It has been assailed in Mexico City's media, has prompted thousands to take to the streets in capital protests and is to be the subject of large demonstrations planned this weekend in Tijuana.

Rozental stopped short of detailing what, if any, money his government has devoted to the cause but made clear that Mexico is supporting groups in the United States working to defeat Prop. 187.

"Mexico will participate with organizations, associations and human rights groups to bring down this proposition," he said, adding: "We have media campaign strategies to inform the entire California electorate of the contributions that Mexicans have made and continue to make to this state, so that no one will go away with the idea that we are responsible for the costs and problems of the state."

At the core of Mexico's argument, Rozental and Mexico Foreign Secretary Manuel Tello agreed in separate interviews, is the belief here that Mexicans in California are being used as scapegoats for an economic crisis in California, unrelated to undocumented migrants.

And for a nation ill-prepared to offer those migrants a better life at home, the greatest concern here is that Prop. 187 will touch off what Tello this week called a "xenophobic wave that will spread into other American states along the frontier with Mexico."

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Such a backlash, say some Mexican and Latin American human rights groups fueling the government's anti-Prop. 187 crusade, would be disastrous for nations such as Mexico, where, they concede, the failure to deliver basic goods and human services ultimately is responsible for illegal immigration.

"We realize that in the last decades, for various and bitter circumstances that we won't analyze here, millions of women and men from our countries have abandoned their homes and land to immigrate to other latitudes where, with no more than strength to work, they could attain a life of dignity and a fair wage with which to give their children food, health, education and security," a Mexican-led human rights consortium declared in a statement.

But the group, whose members come from more than a dozen Latin American countries, stressed in a blitz of recent, paid advertisements throughout Mexico that any proposal to push migrants out of California is no solution.

The group called Prop. 187 "an aggression against the human and worker rights of a labor force that historically has contributed to forging California." Group members demanded its withdrawal, asserting it "undermines the image of a country that claims to be the world's leading superpower, a vanguard of liberty and a paradigm of justice."

The group's alternative: "The status of the so-called 'undocumenteds' " must be resolved not unilaterally by America or any of its states but by an international forum.

The Mexican government--which often has condemned the United States for interfering in other nations' internal affairs--has offered no alternatives to the problems identified by Prop. 187, instead taking pains to err on the side of caution.

But, amid a torrent of daily public condemnations of the California initiative in Mexico's nationalistic media, officials such as Rozental and others have spoken out against Prop. 187, saying it scapegoats a racial group.

Mexico is not alone in its protest. Elsewhere in Central America, the home region to tens of thousands of illegal immigrants in California, governments and members of the public have been expressing outrage.

"Gov. Pete Wilson is violating the human rights of California's immigrants," said the president of El Salvador, Armando Calderon Sol. "This is an affront to the dignity of man, woman and child. The very country founded on principles of liberty and human rights must repudiate this attitude."

Like much of Central America, El Salvador's economy is kept afloat by money sent home by Salvadorans living in the United States.

Other public reaction to Prop. 187 in Mexico has been more conservative and measured. A recent editorial in the daily La Reforma stressed that the blame and the consequences behind the issue must be shared.

"We have lost generations and generations of Mexicans that valiantly have decided to abandon their homes and family to search and find a better solution for their lives," analyst Enrique Canales wrote. "The proof is that the great majority do not want to come back and prefer to establish themselves there."

Fineman, The Times' Mexico City bureau chief, is now on assignment in Haiti. Times staff writer Tracy Wilkinson in San Salvador contributed to this report.

* RELATED STORIES: A1

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