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Illegal Mexican aliens lose welcome as economy dips

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The temperature is not the only hot topic in the US Southwest this summer. So, too, is concern over the economic impact of Mexican aliens on the job market at a time when the nation's unemployment rate is rising.

Economists expect the pressure for Mexicans to search out jobs in the United States to remain strong this year as a result of poor weather that has hurt Mexican agricultural production. Farming employs over 40 percent of Mexico's labor force.

Even in the relatively robust local economies in Texas, tension is building. "In the past, illegal immigration [of Mexicans] was viewed mainly as positive for the economy. Now the perception is that they are a drain on the economy," says Richard E. Ryan, who regularly surveys the Houston area for V. Lance Tarrance & Associates, a polling and research firm.

Mr. Ryan reports that increasing numbers of those surveyed view Mexican aliens as costing more in social services than they contribute in taxes. This change in perception may be partly a result of publicity surrounding an important case recently brought before a US district court in Houston challenging the state's policy of not educating alien children in public schools. A decision in the case is expected soon.

However, the recession clearly has raised concerns among US workers about jobs and wages. "The biggest negative impact [of illegal aliens] is that their presence depresses wages throughout the state," declares G. G. Garcia, special assistant on Mexican affairs to Texas Gov. William Clements.

Joe Razo, director of a state program in California to protect undocumented workers from illegally low wages and poor work conditions, agrees the mood is shifting against Mexican aliens in the US."Every time the economy deteriorates, public attitudes change more to wanting to keep foreigners out." Ironically, criticism that Mexican undocumented aliens are taking precious jobs is particularly sharp within the Los Angeles area Hispanic community, Mr. Razo said.

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