Riverside/San Bernardino immigrants want voting rights

The Associated Press
Wednesday July 10, 2002

RIVERSIDE — Mexican immigrants in Riverside and San Bernardino counties are working to get voting rights in their homeland. 

Mexico President Vicente Fox promised during his 2000 election campaign that millions of Mexicans living abroad would be allowed to vote by absentee ballot. But the proposal, backed by many immigrants and Hispanic activists in the United States, remains mired in debate here and Mexico. 

It is undecided who would be allowed to vote absentee or whether first-generation Americans who have never lived in Mexico should be able to vote. 

The process may require Mexican nationals living in the United States, along with their adult children born here, to claim Mexican nationality. It was not immediately determined what tax and military service consequences are involved in dual citizenship. 

“We need (political) representation over there and here,” said Riverside resident Roberto Tijerina, 36, a U.S.-born son of Coachella Valley migrant farmworkers. “It re-establishes our connection to Mexico. It re-establishes that umbilical cord.” 

Tijerina joined other members of the National Alliance for Human Rights in establishing his Mexican nationality. 

Alliance leader Armando Navarro, professor and chair of Ethnic Studies at University of California, Riverside, said the group is urging other first-generation Mexicans to apply. 

Mexican government officials estimate that 5 million to 10 million Mexican adults live abroad, making up 14 percent of the voting bloc. Nearly all of those who may be eligible to vote absentee live in the United States. 

In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, nearly 1 million of the counties’ residents claimed Mexican ancestry on the 2000 census, but it is not known how many are first-generation Americans. 

Until 1998, the Mexican government required emigrants to give up Mexican citizenship if they became U.S. citizens. Immigrants who became U.S. citizens before 1998 can now apply to the Mexican government to regain their Mexican nationality. The deadline is March 2003. 

Mexico’s president, during a visit to Tijuana in June, said it was unlikely an absentee voting system could be in place for the 2003 Mexican congressional elections, but he hoped a system would be in place by 2006. 

Mexico’s Congress is still debating the issue.