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CALIFORNIA ELECTIONS : Mexico Assails State's Passage of Prop. 187 : Immigration: Officials say measure 'tramples' human rights and commentators call it 'racist.' But President Salinas stresses that it does not represent the position of the U.S. government.

November 10, 1994|MARK FINEMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MEXICO CITY — "The voices of intolerance have returned," Mexican President Carlos Salinas de Gortari declared, leading his nation in protest Wednesday after Californians approved Proposition 187--a vote that the government here officially said "tramples and ignores" basic human rights of migrants in California.

Amid a torrent of criticism that filled Mexico's newspapers and newscasts--almost universally blasting the state ballot measure as "racist" and "a disgrace for U.S.-Mexican relations"--Salinas said of the undocumented individuals who will be denied education and medical services under the proposition, "What will happen to the children? Will they return to Mexico? Wash windshields in California? Sell newspapers on the streets or beg?"

But in a clear effort to blunt anti-Americanism and more attacks on American targets in Mexico after the vote, the president stressed in a statement that Proposition 187 "does not represent the will of all American citizens, nor does it reflect the position of the federal government in our neighboring nation."

His administration also vowed to adhere to its basic principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries.

But as officials began assessing the potential impact of Proposition 187 on Mexico, Salinas said the government will continue to "reject all forms of overt and covert discrimination and xenophobia" against Mexicans in foreign lands.

Behind the rhetoric was deep concern among Mexican economists and rural development experts that Proposition 187, if upheld by U.S. courts, could have a devastating effect on Mexico's impoverished countryside, the primary source of the tens of thousands of undocumented Mexicans in California who will be affected by the measure.

"There will be a big impact on Baja California and other states, such as Michoacan, Zacatecas and Guerrero, if these migrants are forced to come back," Enrique del Val, undersecretary of regional development, told reporters at a breakfast round table.

"We don't know yet how many thousands or millions of Mexicans are going to return," he added, but said the government is working on its 1995 budget in an effort to factor in future need for hospitals, roads, schools and housing for hundreds of thousands of undocumented Mexicans who may return if Proposition 187 is put into effect.

Among the projects under discussion, he said, is a large public works program to employ the returning work force to build hospitals and schools that would be needed for them and their families--the same services that would be denied them under the California initiative.

"We are worried," he said, conceding that it was the lack of those basic services that contributed to the exodus of undocumented Mexicans to the United States. "Because if these services are denied them there, they will come back."

Jose Angel Pescador Osuna, Mexico's secretary of public education, said his ministry "is taking measures to know how many children will be affected, which is the demand we now would have to fulfill, particularly in the border states."

Among the few temperate voices in the Mexican media Wednesday was that of television commentator Sergio Sarmiento, who said: "The truth is that our immigration policies are much, much more restrictive than those in the United States." Rather than criticizing Proposition 187, he said, "we must improve our own economic situation, which is the only way we can guarantee our people decent jobs."

But most of the reaction to California's vote was far more emotional and ideological than practical, not only in Mexico but in Central America too.

In El Salvador, where the government had warned that Proposition 187 could destroy that nation's fragile, postwar economy if it triggers a mass repatriation of Salvadoran workers, President Armando Calderon Sol issued a bulletin declaring: "We are extremely worried by the victory of Gov. Pete Wilson and by the fact that Proposition 187 has become a reality.

"We believe that it is an attack against human rights," he said.

He appealed for calm in his country and in California, calling on "all immigrants, and Salvadorans, in particular, to condemn violence and reject violence wherever it may come."

In Mexico, there were no major demonstrations against the vote and none of the street violence that many analysts had feared in its aftermath. With riot police on alert in Mexico City, there was no repeat of Tuesday's trashing of a McDonald's restaurant in the capital's Zona Rosa tourist district.

There was no official reaction to Proposition 187's passage by Ernesto Zedillo, who was formally declared Mexico's president-elect early Wednesday after a 16-hour debate in the newly elected Mexican House of Deputies. Zedillo, who won the presidential election in August with just over 50% of the vote, will replace Salinas on Dec. 1.

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