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AP National - 12/12/2000

Mexicans To Head Home for Holidays

by ARTHUR H. ROTSTEIN
Associated Press Writer

TUCSON, Ariz. (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, Ariz., 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 Dec. 1 and Jan. 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.

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On the Net:

INS: http://www.ins.gov

Customs Service: http://www.customs.ustreas.gov

AP-NY-12-12-00 0104EST<