Mexican Consulates Open Legal Centers for Immigrants

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Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report

Interim Consul General José Antonio Larios introduces a new legal aid program for Mexican nationals living in the United States.

All 50 Mexican consulates across the nation on Friday opened “Centros de Defensoría” or advocacy centers, aiming to protect the legal rights of Mexican immigrants and other Mexican citizens living in the United States.

“Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto has instructed all Mexican Consulates in this country to become true advocates for the rights of Mexican immigrants,” Interim Consul General in San Antonio José Antonio Larios told a crowd of lawyers and immigration advocates gathered at the Mexican Consulate. “The advocacy centers are a new program designed to provide protection and consular assistance with the objective of disseminating information and providing direct legal counsel.”

The centers will be supported by a network of lawyers, law schools, and pro-migrant and minority rights organizations that will aid the consulate in conducting informational workshops on immigration status, dual nationality, and legal solutions relating to deportation.

Resources that offer pro-bono assistance will be multiplied, Larios said, and a memorandum of understanding will be signed with state and local authorities to preserve the family unit in cases where there is a threat of separation due to possible deportation.

Larios told the Rivard Report that the program is in response to the Trump administration’s recent executive orders calling for a crackdown on immigration enforcement and expanded deportations. President Donald Trump’s campaign rhetoric, now taking the form of executive orders, expands the definition of who is considered a criminal subject to deportation.

On Jan. 30, shortly after canceling a scheduled trip to Washington over Trump’s insistence that Mexico should pay for a multibillion border wall, Peña Nieto announced that he would be channeling $50 million to Mexican consulates to reinforce the protection, freedom, and rights of Mexican nationals.

The stepped-up immigration enforcement has caused many immigrants from Mexico to fear being deported and has even prompted some to go into hiding. Mexican consulates across the U.S. have been flooded with fearful immigrants asking to renew their Mexican passports or register their U.S.-born children for Mexican citizenship in case they are sent back, while others show up looking for general legal help. The Mexican government has created a 24-hour hotline to help answer any questions from Mexicans in the U.S.

Consulates also have been distributing fliers advising people on what to do if they are approached by immigration enforcement officials.

“I’m here because my husband and I want to relocate our family to Mexico,” Rosy Rubner, who has lived in the United States for 25 years, told the Rivard Report. “With everything that’s happening, I don’t want to be discriminated against or for my son to suffer that.”

Rocío Guenther / Rivard Report

Rosy Rubner, left, and her son Justin talk to reporters about their desire to return to Mexico due to the hostile political climate.

Rubner, originally from Chihuahua, Mexico, has dual citizenship through her marriage to a U.S. citizen. Her 8-year-old son, Justin, was born in the U.S. and also has dual citizenship. Their legal status doesn’t change the fact that she feels targeted by anti-immigrant rhetoric, she said, and she’s currently in the process of helping her husband and son apply for a Mexican passport.

Rubner is planning to move to the city of Mérida, located in the Mexican state of Yucatán.

“In my school, we also voted, and Trump won,” Justin said. “I felt sad when I heard about the wall, because I have brothers and cousins that live in Mexico.”

Jeremy Smith, 19, a former student at Northwest Vista College, has legal residency status under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which was instituted under the Obama administration and protects from deportation undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children and grants them renewable two-year work permits. Smith, who is originally from Guadalajara, Mexico, came to the consulate on Friday to renew his Mexican passport.

“I got an opportunity to play soccer in Spain, so I need to make sure I have my Mexican passport in case I can’t come back to the U.S. after that due to my DACA status,” Smith said. “I’m also here to inquire if I can ask for a special permission to leave the country without losing my DACA status, because in my work permit and social security number it says ‘not valid to re-enter the country.'”

The consulate will continue to defend Mexicans as far as U.S. law and international treaties allow, Larios said, and the new advocacy centers also will provide information about the support that repatriated individuals can receive if they are returned to Mexico. The consulate will work to ensure that the removal process is carried out in a safe and respectful manner, he said.

“We are a like a filter – we capture the doubts individuals have and direct them to the appropriate organization or specialized lawyer,” said Cesar de Leon, who works in the protection department at the consulate. “The most popular question we are getting right now is, ‘What will I do with my kids if immigration officials detain me?’ We created these packets of information about citizenship workshops and phone numbers to contact different immigrant centers.”

In addition to these campaigns, consular officials and staff will make more visits to county, state, and federal prisons as well as immigration detention centers to verify that all detentions comply with due process.

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