MEXICO CITY, June 6—Mexico’s three major presidential candidates each pledged Tuesday during a nationally televised debate to seek an immigration accord with the United States.
Immigration has grown in importance in the campaign since this spring’s massive immigration rallies in U.S. cities and President Bush’s decision to send National Guard troops to support U.S. Border Patrol agents.
Andrés Manuel López Obrador, candidate of the Democratic Revolutionary Party, or PRD, who is popular among the poor, said Mexicans have to convince U.S. officials that “nothing can be resolved with walls . . . or with the militarization of the border.”
López Obrador, who skipped the first debate and was under pressure to stop his slide in opinion polls with a resounding win Tuesday, is tied in the polls with Felipe Calderón, the candidate from President Vicente Fox’s National Action Party, or PAN.
Calderón, a former energy secretary, said he would push for an agreement that would award U.S. legal status to Mexicans who have lived illegally in the United States for “five or six years”—a far shorter period than has been proposed by some immigration advocates in the United States.
The third major candidate, Roberto Madrazo, of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, called Mexico’s foreign policy “a disaster zone” and echoed his opponents in saying that Mexico needed to create more jobs to stem the huge flow of illegal migrants northward.
Both López Obrador and Calderón promised to fight for the human rights of Mexicans living illegally in the United States. But López Obrador went one step further, saying he would convert all 45 Mexican consulates in the United States into branches of the Mexican attorney general’s office to protect Mexicans . from discrimination. Calderón vowed to seek an accord with Canada and the United States to encourage investment in business development in Mexican regions that lose the most people to illegal migration.
While López Obrador’s prospects have been declining, Calderón’s have been rising on the basis of a dogged, stay-on-message approach.
Their duel—which almost completely ignores the presence of Madrazo—has brought Mexico toward what could be one of the closest elections in its history on July 2. The race is so close that some Mexican political forecasters have begun to use a word American voters are all too familiar with: recount.