Cleverly, tirelessly, Mexico exerts its influence on the immigration debate through its consulates

May 11, 2009

Mexico accused of subverting U.S. law
By Patrick McGee
Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Friday, December 1, 2006

The work of the 50 Mexican consulates in the United States makes life easier for illegal immigrants.

U.S. lawmakers put the squeeze on illegal immigrants this year on the local, state and federal level, but for the last decade or so Mexico has quietly and in some cases very effectively taken steps to make life easier for its citizens living here illegally.

Felipe Calderon, who will be inaugurated as Mexico’s president today, promised on the campaign trail to do more for Mexicans in the U.S. and to strengthen the network of consulates that support them.

Mexico has 50 consulates and an estimated 6.2 million illegal immigrants in the U.S., more than any other country on both counts.

The consulates help Mexicans, regardless of their immigration status, because they have a right to their country’s services, said Oscar Solis Flores, the Mexican Consulate in Dallas’ coordinator for the Institute of Mexicans Abroad.

But the consulates’ work sometimes undercuts anti-illegal immigration measures in the U.S. For example, ordinances passed by cities, such as Farmers Branch, aim to make it harder for illegal immigrants to rent apartments in the United States, but ID cards issued by the Mexican consulates make it easier for them to settle here. The ID cards are widely accepted as sufficient identification to open a U.S. bank account.

Other services include a method to pay for relatives’ health care back home, and help with children’s enrollment in Mexican schools after attending U.S.schools.

Some of what Mexican consulates do is fine, said Steven Camarota, director of research for the Center for Immigration Studies in Washington, D.C., which opposes illegal immigration. But he said they step over the line when they lobby local governments to accept consulate-issued ID cards.

“They’re working to actively subvert the rule of immigration law in the United States,” he said.

Last year, Luis went to the Mexican Consulate in Dallas to apply for dual citizenship for his children, in case he is ever deported and has to take them back to Mexico. He asked that his last name not be published because he lives here illegally.

Through another consulate program, Luis learned about credible contractors and lenders for people who want to buy or build a home in Mexico, and he used the program to buy a two-story house. He works as a truck driver to pay the $300-a-month mortgage on his house in Mexico and to pay rent on his apartment in Dallas.

Experts say the increased outreach started 10 years ago when the Mexican constitution was changed to allow for dual citizenship.

Xochitl Bada, a research assistant at the Institute for Latino Studies at the University of Notre Dame, said Mexicans in the U.S. were previously ignored by their government.

Not any more. This year, Mexicans in the U.S., legal or not, were allowed to vote in their country’s presidential election by absentee ballot.

Mexican President Vicente Fox, whose six-year term ends today, praised Mexican immigrants as “heroes” and called for the U.S. Congress to pass legislation that would give them legal status. Calderon promised to continue pushing America for such legislation.

Andrew Selee, director of the Woodrow Wilson Center’s Mexico Institute in Washington, D.C., said Mexican politicians’ new respect for their brethren in the U.S. could be seen in the quick retreat from a proposed tax on money sent by Mexicans to their families back home.

“That became a political hot potato, and everyone backed off,” he said. “People said, ‘Hey, let’s face it, these people are putting money into the economy in a way that the Mexican government hasn’t.’ ”