December 12, 2000

Southbound traffic increasing as Mexicans head home for holidays

                  TUCSON, Arizona (AP) -- The steady stream of Mexicans from the United
                  States making year-end trips home to see their families should flow more
                  smoothly this holiday season.

                  Officials expect more than 100,000 southbound Mexicans to cross through
                  Nogales, Mexico, the busiest port on the Arizona border, between now and
                  Christmas -- a 30 percent increase over a year ago, Mexican Consul Roberto
                  Rodriguez Hernandez said Monday.

                  But across the border in Nogales, Arizona, Mayor Cesar Rios predicted smoother
                  travel this year because new President Vicente Fox wants to make it easier for
                  people returning home.

                  Delays have been the rule for many en route to the Mexican interior for
                  Christmas and New Year's. There have been frequent tie-ups in clearing
                  customs, acquiring necessary permits and, at least occasionally, dealing with
                  bribes sought by Mexican immigration or customs agents or federal police.

                  "In the past, they used to stop them at the border, question them ... I think it's
                  going to run smoother this year, and the flow will be what it should be: fewer
                  traffic tie-ups," Rios said.

                  Meantime, officials believe Mexico's "Paisano Program" will continue to ease
                  transit across the border. The program, about 10 years old, enables Mexicans
                  who are permanent U.S. residents to enter Mexico simply by declaring their
                  nationality and presenting a U.S. green card.

                  "In the past they were abused by Mexican immigration officers and Mexican
                  federal police," Hernandez said. "Every year we are getting better, more results
                  with fewer complaints."

                  The program also eases restrictions on duty-free goods Mexicans can take into
                  the country between December 1 and January 10, increasing the limit from $50
                  to $300 per person.

                  U.S. Customs Port Director P.T. Wright said the northbound return, usually
                  during the second week of January, puts a greater burden on his staff.

                  Customs does not record southbound crossings into Mexico, but averages 1.3
                  million people coming north each month, he said.

                  Copyright 2000 The Associated Press.