Not only is the Mexican government is not building a wall; it’s spending $50 million to help its legal aid to US migrants who fear deportation from the US in a response to President Donald Trump’s crackdown on illegal immigration.
All 50 Mexican consulates in the US launched legal assistance centers to form partnerships with nonprofit groups and lawyers to help those fearing Trump’s immigration policies.
The diplomatic effort comes as the two countries are in a rift over plans to build a border wall. While Trump says Mexico will pay for it one way or another, Mexico says it will not.
Miami’s Mexican consul general, Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, said Friday that these centers will become “authentic advocates of the rights of Mexican migrants [in the US].”
“What changes today is that we are prioritizing legal matters over everything. Previously, we did not have the need to seek so much legal support for our people,” he said. “But now, we need to protect them against an eventual deportation.”
Mexican consulates are forming partnerships with law schools, immigration clinics and nonprofit groups that work on behalf of US migrants. The centers are staffed with Mexican lawyers who can refer cases to organizations or clinics. They are also reaching out to private law firms.
Mexican foreign minister Luis Videgaray visited New York City’s consulate Friday and called the effort “a moral imperative.”
“It is something that we will continue to do by obligation and conviction,” Videgaray said.
Consulates from Mexico and other Central American nations have been juggling numerous inquiries in recent months from migrants concerned about their fate and that of their US born children.
Zabalgoitia said the increase in requests for documents and help is “enormous,” as he pointed to a waiting room with dozens of people carrying folders of documents in need of birth certificates, Mexican passports and other identifications. “I used to sign two birth certificates a week. Only yesterday, I signed 15.”
The increasing demand comes from people like Gloria Portillo, who went to the Mexican consulate in Phoenix on Friday to renew her passport. Her visa expired three years ago, and now she is trying to start the process of becoming a legal resident after marrying a US citizen but fears something could happen in the meantime.
“We’ve been here all of our lives, we have kids, and of course we’re afraid to be deported,” she said, also speaking of friends and relatives living in the US illegally.
Dozens of people visited the consulate in St. Paul, Minnesota, some lining up along the walls and asking the consul general questions. In the Philadelphia mission, which also covers Delaware and southern New Jersey, daily appointments at the consulate have doubled to 400 people, Consul General Alicia Kerber-Palma said.
Near Boston, Mexican diplomats have been meeting with families at churches and community events to explain the challenges of claiming US born children, without dual nationality, after deportation.
Mexican diplomats in Houston, where half a million Mexican US migrants live, said requests for Mexican birth certificates at the consulate are up 50 percent since Trump begin announcing tough measures to curb illegal immigration.
“The tolerance is gone. I think that’s the best way of describing it,” said Oscar Solis, a first secretary of the Mexican consulate in Houston. “It’s like in wars. They come for one person and many who are innocent or not really involved end up paying.”