Georgina Lagos
"Mexico & California:
New Challenges for Consular Affairs"

April 20, 2004

Georgina Lagos speaks at the Center for Latin American Studies on April 20. She was the first woman to serve as Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco (2001-04). Lagos played a key role in gaining official recognition for the Mexican Consular ID as a valid piece of identification for Mexican immigrants in many California cities.

Rights and Representation: The Mexican Government and Its Citizens Abroad
By Shannon Gleeson 

Despite the longstanding presence of Mexico’s citizens in the United States, the two countries have only recently begun to accept mutual responsibility for their well-being. One of the most telling examples of this shift has been the acceptance of the Mexican consular ID as a form of formal identification .

The process that culminated in this acceptance was remarkable for two reasons. First, it represented a decisive change in the way the Mexican government viewed its citizens abroad. The Mexican government realized that it can no longer ignore these migrants, and has started to acknowledge them as assets to the nation. As a result, the Mexican authorities have stopped regarding migrants with disdain and have begun to offer real structural responses to support their lives abroad.

Second, the impetus to accept the matrícula consular came from local government officials in the U.S. Law enforcement authorities in particular came to recognize the enormous utility a form of identification has for the members of the community they police. Despite a significant public backlash, the consular ID has helped undocumented immigrants to better integrate themselves into the society in which they work and live. It has allowed undocumented migrants to open bank accounts in participating financial institutions such as Wells Fargo, and has facilitated the sending of remittances back to Mexico.

However, acceptance of the consular ID came as a result of the agency of specific actors, and despite opposition from anti-immigrant and conservative forces. The first city to accept the consular ID was San Francisco following much hard work by Georgina Lagos, the Mexican Consul General there from 2001 to 2004. In her CLAS talk, Lagos described this aspect of her tenure as a part of a greater effort by the Mexican government to reform the way it deals with its citizens living abroad and to shift its position in the international arena.

Lagos described a broader change in Mexico during the last decade and since the election of Vicente Fox as president. Mexico’s increased participation on the international stage has included a temporary seat on the UN Security Council, and Mexico’s subsequent opposition to the invasion of Iraq. In addition, Mexico has resumed a leadership role within Latin America, serving as a bridge to the U.S., Lagos argued. Mexico has also increasingly opened up economically. It currently has 26 free trade agreements, making it the country with the most bilateral economic treaties.

Lagos identified three of the most important aspects of the U.S.–Mexico relationship. Since Sept. 11, security has been a significant concern for Washington, including the fight against the drug trade. Meanwhile, a movement has begun to build a “North American community,” which although still in the conceptual stages, will hopefully, according to Lagos, come to oversee “the free movement of capital, goods, services and individuals.” Thirdly, Mexico and the U.S. have resumed the dialogue, interrupted by 9-11, to include the migration of Mexicans to the United States as a part of the official agenda, on the grounds of a “shared responsibility.”

Yet migration is an incredibly complex issue. The countries have thus divided the issue into five separate areas: 1) the regularization of undocumented individuals living in the U.S.; 2) the increase in legal permanent resident visas granted to Mexicans; 3) the establishment of a guestworker program; 4) border safety; 5) the promotion of economic development, particularly in intensive migrant-sending regions. There is also a plurality of stakeholders who stand to benefit from such a migration agreement. They include law-abiding undocumented migrants in the U.S. who could make claims on legal rights without fear of deportation, future immigrants, who would benefit from full protection under the law, the two federal governments which would be able to target traffickers more easily, U.S. employers who would be able to hire migrants without fear of legal repercussions or competition from other employers who hire undocumented workers.

The Mexican consulate has played a major role in fostering this debate. The Mexican consular network is the largest in the world, with 45 offices in the United States alone. The main objective of the consulates is to protect the rights of Mexican citizens. One of the concrete manifestations of this concern was Fox’s creation of a presidential committee for expatriate Mexicans, chaired by the president and involving nine ministries. Their focus includes policy efforts that will ameliorate pressures to migrate, as well as the economic development of Mexico. In early 2003, a consultative council was created incorporating various parties in the debate. The majority of the council’s 152 members are community members. There are also state representatives, prominent professionals and academics and delegates from ten of the major Latino organizations in the U.S.

With an estimated one-sixth of Mexican citizenry residing in the United States, the Mexican government has also begun to institutionalize channels through which Mexican migrants can influence policy-making in Mexico. In 1998, the Mexican government legally recognized dual citizenship, thus paving the way for current efforts to facilitate absentee voting for these migrants.

As Mexico enters this new era of awareness of the needs of migrants and their position in the global economy, it remains to be proven whether international trade practices will achieve the comprehensive economic development that the country seeks. A decade after the implementation of NAFTA, one lesson of the treaty may be that free trade will not provide Mexico with the internal economic development needed to reduce the “push” factors for migrants heading north. The recent efforts by the Mexican government to bring structural and institutional responses more in line with the needs of Mexican migrants has opened the door to what will hopefully result in greater advocacy on their behalf in future migration agreements, as well as in their well-being at home — regardless of what side of the border they choose to live in.

Georgina Lagos was the first woman to serve as Consul General of Mexico in San Francisco (2001-04). She spoke at CLAS on April 20.

Shannon Gleeson is a graduate student in the Department of Sociology.

Ms. Lagos speaks with students in attendance after the event.


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