Former president Nixon slipped across the border today to dine on enchiladas and beer and, in an impromptu interview, said Congress should develop a new bracero-type program so that Mexican nationals can work in the United States "with dignity."

Nixon, accompanied by his longtime friend Charles G. (Bebe) Rebozo, spoke with reporters after a leisurely lunch at Tijuana's Coronet Restaurant, where the former president has lunched several times.

Asked by reporters from Tijuana's ABC newspaper, the city's largest daily, for his views about Mexicans who enter the United States illegally, Nixon replied:

"As I come to Tijuana and see these people here -- hard-working, nice people -- and then find they move across the border to make a little money to send back and they are arrested and harassed -- it's wrong," Nixon said.

"They must not be exploited."

Nixon said Mexican and U.S. officials "should sit down and work out a legal way, where the rights of the workers can be protected, where they get adequate salaries, unemployment, Social Security and all the rest, rather than leave it as it is now, where they're [coming across the border] anyway and it's all illegal and they have no protection."

He said "Congress needs to look over the situation and develop a legal way for workers from Mexico who want to work in the United States to get across the border, to work with dignity, and send money back home."

The proposal appears identical to the former bracero program, launched in 1942, allowing Mexicans to labor in agricultural and railroad jobs, with such U.S.-provided benefits as housing, food, medical care and wage protection.