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Byline: Dominic Berbeo Staff Writer

The North American Free Trade Agreement should be revised to ease immigration laws and protect Mexican workers crossing the border into the United States, foreign policy advisers for the top three Mexican presidential candidates said Wednesday in a Los Angeles debate.

``Thousands of Mexican laborers are going to come north every year seeking jobs, and we're not going to change that overnight, so we should be realistic and not address the issue by building bigger walls,'' said Carlos Salazar, a top aide to Vicente Fox of the National Action Party (PAN).

The topic has become a hot-button issue between Fox and his two opponents, front-runner Francisco Labastida of the ruling Institutional Revolution Party (PRI), and far-left candidate Cuauhtemoc Cardenas of the Democratic Revolution Party (PRD), who will face off in the July 2 Mexican elections.

It could also become a hot topic in the U.S. presidential elections in November because organized labor supports granting amnesty to the 6 million illegal Latino immigrants the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Services estimates work in the United States.

``Workers and small businesses are losing under the current NAFTA rules,'' Salazar said at the debate organized by the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce and Town Hall Los Angeles, a private speakers forum.

Mexican Congressman Carlos Heredia, representing Cardenas in the debate, suggested forming a commission with representatives from Canada, the United States and Mexico to review the 1994 NAFTA deal and add concessions on immigration and environmental protections.

``A tri-national forum looking at long-term immigration solutions is the only realistic way to deal with this problem, which has truly become a crisis for all sides,'' Heredia said.

Javier Trevino, a Labastida adviser, also suggested creating an ombudsman position in Mexico to act as an intermediary between the U.S. and Mexican presidents strictly on the issue of immigration, a plan all three parties have agreed on.

``We're in a situation where two-thirds of the Mexican population is living in poverty,'' Trevino said. ``We all know this means that immigration into the United States is not going to be solved overnight.''

The candidates also discussed setting up a system for Mexican-Americans to send money to relatives in Mexico without paying stiff bank or agency fees, and boosting California-Mexico trade.

James Clark, director of the U.S.-Mexico Chamber of Commerce, said Mexico is the No. 1 importer in the world of goods produced in California.

``We still see room for improvement in trade to Mexico,'' Clark said. ``The next Mexican president is going to have to have a viable plan for creating more jobs in Mexico and boosting trade from California, including agriculture and technology.''
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Apr 6, 2000

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