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Immigration has muted role in Mexico's presidential race

MEXICO CITY—Immigration may divide U.S. politicians, but there's no split among Mexico's three main presidential hopefuls on ways to manage the flow of workers northward.

In campaign statements and literature, each has called for better treatment of Mexican migrants regardless of their legal status in the United States, more jobs in Mexico's countryside to encourage workers to stay and an immigration agreement with the United States.

Advisers to the candidates acknowledge that the issue of migration to the United States isn't likely to make a difference in the campaign. Everyone agrees that good U.S. relations are essential.

"Foreign policy issues are not the ones that are going to elect the president," said Arturo Sarukhan, the international relations coordinator for Felipe Calderon, the candidate of the National Action Party.

Though there's great interest here in the immigration debate that's taking place in the United States, the Mexican campaigns see the primary issue for them as the lack of jobs in Mexico.

"We have to impede the people's exit from Mexico, and the only way to do that is to give them work," said Jose Maria Perez Gay, the foreign policy coordinator for Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador, the Party of the Democratic Revolution candidate, who's led polls since before campaigning began.

Each of the candidates offers a different formula for spurring development.

Lopez Obrador calls for massive public-infrastructure projects in housing, railroads and reforestation—a Mexican "New Deal." Calderon urges creating service-sector jobs in areas of Mexico that traditionally provide workers to the United States. Roberto Madrazo, the Institutional Revolutionary Party candidate, who's running third in the polls, has called for tourism development in rural areas.

President Vicente Fox, of the National Action Party, touted an ambitious immigration plan when he was elected six years ago, hoping for an agreement with the United States that would provide Mexicans with permanent access to legal jobs. But those hopes were dashed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, as the Bush administration's attention turned to security.

"Immigration has been the main and only issue of the Fox administration from the first," said Jesus Velasco, a political scientist at Mexico's CIDE, a prominent social science research institute.

Fox's failure—and that of his predecessors—to win a major immigration agreement has become a campaign issue. Lopez Obrador cites the lack of movement as a reason to support his candidacy.

Calderon's advisers say that Lopez Obrador, a former mayor of Mexico City who's the only one of the three candidates who didn't study in the United States, isn't experienced enough to deal with U.S. officials.

"He better understand how the U.S. society works and clicks to be able to protect the 8 million undocumented Mexicans in the United States," Sarukhan said.

The fact that immigration issues are playing only a small part in Mexico's presidential campaign may be symptomatic of a lack of interest in the July 2 election among Mexicans who are in the United States.

A Pew Hispanic Center poll in February found that fewer than half of Mexicans in the U.S. were aware of the election. Only 35,000 of the millions of Mexicans in the United States have registered to vote absentee under a new law that allows it.

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(c) 2006, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

ARCHIVE PHOTOS on KRT Direct (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Felipe Calderon, Lopez Obrador, Roberto Madrazo

ARCHIVE GRAPHIC on KRT Direct (from KRT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20051114 MEXICO candidates

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