Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mexicans Plan to Cross Border Migrant Worker Is Unfazed: `Politicians Are the Least of My Worries'

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Mexicans Plan to Cross Border Migrant Worker Is Unfazed: `Politicians Are the Least of My Worries'

Article excerpt

Along a lonely stretch of road in the middle of the Mexican state of Guanajuato, Pedro Olmedo and his compadre, Juan Arriaga, passionately discuss politics and travel.

Beneath a shade tree, the men carefully plan their annual trip to California's lush San Joaquin Valley, where endless fields of tomatoes, melons and grapes await them.

They're well aware that their journey and others like it have been drawn into this year's U.S. presidential campaign. Both President Bill Clinton and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, the likely presidential candidates, have proposed steps to halt illegal immigration and to curb legal immigration. And the House on Thursday passed a bill boosting border enforcement and making life more difficult for undocumented workers.

But in this part of Mexico, where emigration to the United States is a way of life, the two men don't question whether to go. Their only decision is when.

"If we don't get to California by next month, who will pick tomatoes and grapes?" explained an earnest Olmedo. "Whose jobs are we taking? The Americans won't do them."

Indeed, word about more Border Patrol agents, new fences and more infrared cameras leaves Arriaga and Olmedo unfazed.

Arriaga dismisses the border as nothing more than an artificial barrier, a hurdle to be surmounted as he and his countrymen follow economic opportunities. "We either live and work here, or we live and work there."

Impact On California

Their impact on California is immense. Studies at the University of California at Davis have estimated that 90 percent of the people working in California's agriculture are of Mexican origin.

Mexico's devastating economic crisis - which has eroded the peso's spending power, increased inflation and added to the unemployment rolls - has strengthened the determination of those seeking to enter the United States, analysts say.

Since 1993, President Clinton has increased the Immigration and Naturalization Service budget by 73 percent, which has put hundreds more agents along the border and fueled efforts to detain and deport illegal immigrants. …

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