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January 1996, Volume 3, Number 1

Mexico Works on Dual Nationality

Mexico in 1996 is expected to approve a dual nationality amendment to the Mexican Constitution that would permit Mexican nationals who become citizens of another country to retain the right to own land in coastal areas and to retain their shares of ejido or communal lands. Mexicans opting for US or other citizenship would lose their right to vote in Mexican elections, but could retain their Mexican passports.

President Zedillo made dual citizenship a key plank in his foreign policy, and on several occasions reminded the estimated two to three million Mexican-born nationals in the US who are eligible to apply for US citizenship that they are Mexicans who happen to live north of the border. Some US observers fear that Mexico is "interfering" in US politics by urging its nationals living in the US to become US citizens, and then support Mexican government positions in the US. Mexico has 51 consulates throughout the US, while the US has 16 consulates in Mexico.

Over 8,000 Mexicans applied for asylum in the US in 1994 and 1995, and about 60 were granted asylum, most in 1995. In FY94, Haitians were most likely to receive asylum in the US (1,060 Haitians were granted asylum) and in FY95, 946 Indians were granted asylum.

On December 18, 1995, NAFTA was to permit trucks that satisfy national standards to cross the border and to deliver goods within border states with foreign drivers, not just the current 20-mile commercial limit. After pressure from the Teamsters Union, the US Department of Transportation announced that there would be a delay in free access, pending the outcome of discussions with Mexico about highway safety.

Although US truckers can carry goods into Mexico, few US companies permit their drivers to take goods into Mexico because of fears of theft, so the major beneficiary of this NAFTA provision would have been Mexican truckers.

The US Teamsters union and border state politicians pressured the Clinton Administration not to permit Mexican trucks to move beyond the 20-mile zone. According to those favoring a delay in free Mexican truck movement, 1,200 of the 5,000 Mexican trucks entering Texas every day are time bombs because they carry fuel or explosives in unsafe trucks--in many cases, Mexican trucks meet Mexican safety standards, but not US safety standards.

Instead of making cross border truck traffic easier, on December 19, there were stepped up US safety checks of Mexican trucks entering the US. Some Mexican drivers, who reportedly earn $62 per week, complained of discrimination. The trucking delay illustrates the problems involved in integrating two very different economies.

Along most of the US-Mexican border, the Mexican city is more populous than its US counterpart. Juarez, a city of 1.5 million residents across the Rio Grande from El Paso, a city of 600,000, has about 25 percent of Mexico's maquiladora employment--some 150,000 Mexicans work in 310 maquiladoras. Juarez had a city budget of $37 million in 1994, and the mayor notes that, with this small budget, Juarez is unable to build the infrastructure needed in this fast-growing city. The minimum wage in Juarez was raised to $20 per week on December 4, 1995. Border residents complain that the Mexican government has begun to collect import taxes from Mexican shoppers who return from the United States with more than $400 in consumer goods.

In 1995, total compensation--wages plus benefits--paid to maquiladora workers is expected to average $1.80 an hour, down from $2.61 in 1994. The NAFTA labor commission ruled in a case involving a Sony TV assembly plant in Matamoros that the Mexican government failed to enforce the right of workers to freely organize.

In the US, by comparison, the total compensation paid to private sector workers averaged $17.10 an hour in March 1995, with straight-time wages and salaries averaging $ 12.25 an hour and benefit costs averaging $ 4.85, making benefit costs 29 percent of total compensation. Benefit costs accounted for 36 percent of total compensation for union workers in March, 1995, and 27 percent for non-union employees.

Mexico in 1994 had a $1.4 billion trade deficit with the US, as Mexicans imported more than they exported. In 1995, Mexico exported $15 billion more in goods than it imported from the US--in 1996, Mexico may export a total $100 billion worth of goods.

The corruption scandal involving Raul Salinas, brother of ex-President Carlos Salinas, prompted calls for the return of the ex-President to face corruption charges. Raul Salinas, on a government salary of less than $200,000 per year, bought numerous properties in Mexico, and stashed at least $100 million in accounts abroad.

"NAFTA: Applications for Mexican Motor Carriers on Hold Pending New Trade Discussions," Daily Labor Report, December 19, 1995. David Sanger, "Dilemma for Clinton on NAFTA truck rule," New York Times, December 17, 1995. Karla Bruner, "Mexico looks into dual citizenship," Fresno Bee, December 16, 1995. Sam Dillon, "Mexico woos US Mexicans, proposing dual nationality," New York Times, December 10, 1995; Sam Dillon, "At US door, huddled masses yearn for better pay," New York Times, December 4, 1995. Julia Preston, "Mexico seethes over corruption tied to Salinas," New York Times, December 3, 1995.