April 30, 2004

Mexico Stumbles in Attempt to Give Representation to its Citizens Abroad

Miguel Angel Báez
Noticiero Semanal

April 15, 2004 -- With much fanfare the Mexican government in 2002 began to create a network of “advisors” to represent the interests of Mexicans living abroad.

Most of the advisors are prominent U.S.-based Mexicans.

But this much-touted network of representatives at the grassroots has a problem: very few people go to them for help, including those Mexican immigrants who could most benefit from their assistance.

Teresa de la Rosa, an advisor in California’s Central Valley, who is a member of the legal affairs commission of the Advisory Council, recognizes this weakness and says “that there has to be a way for us as advisors to become aware of the council’s problems.”

The network is known as the Advisory Council, which in turn is attached to the Mexican government’s Institute for Mexicans Living Abroad, or IME for its Spanish acronym, which was formed by decree in 2002. The IME’s Advisory Council is charged with advising the president on issues affecting the Mexican diaspora and has different “commissions” that study the main issues.

From its beginnings, the Advisory Council has been surrounded by controversy and doubts about its effectiveness. There are also doubts about the political power that it can possibly bring to bear within the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox.

The main concern of critics is that the advisors have to cover their own expenses related to the performance of their role. The lack of funding for their activities limits their participation to whatever time and effort the advisors can volunteer.

Beyond the controversy over whether the Advisory Council is effective or not, the truth is that it has gained very little traction at the local level here in the Central Valley— despite the large concentration of Mexican citizens here.

This reality was brought out starkly by the case of a local Mexican man who was terminally ill with cancer but was not able to access the Advisory Council for assistance in his wish to see his family, which was in Mexico.

After the Porterville Recorder and Noticiero Semanal made his case public, Miguel Cano de la Cruz, a Porterville resident, received the promises of local politicians that he would be helped in his wish to see his family.

Since it was impossible for De la Cruz to travel to Mexico and continue his treatment there, the only solution was to attempt to obtain visas for his wife and children so that they could visit him in California.

Politicians made promises, but De la Cruz still has not seen his family. In late March, the Porterville Recorder published an article that determined that little has been done to push the case forward.

The office of U.S. Rep. Devin Nunes told Noticiero Semanal that they had done everything that was possible to obtain the visas for the sick man’s family and had communicated the case directly to the U.S. Embassy in Mexico.

The legislator’s office said that the family was only waiting for passports to be issued to them by the Mexican government.

De la Rosa, the Advisory Council member, said that when she saw this last article she was “inspired” and was galvanized into taking action.

“I thought he had already been helped,” she said.

She contacted the Mexican consulate in Mexico and was able to prod them into contacting the correct authorities in Mexico in order to accelerate the process of issuing passports to the family so that the visit could take place.

“The case of Mr. Cano showed the need that there is for the community to know more about the Advisory Council,” she said. De la Rosa added that the Advisory Council’s leverage with the Mexican consulate could help people who need to expedite such matters.

“That is one of the many functions we can fulfill,” she said. “We can’t provide a solution for everyone, but as far as providing help, people can be assured that we will provide all the help that we can.”

Noe Hernández, an advisor who is on the political affairs commission, says various factors explain why the advisors are not very accessible to Mexicans on this side of the border. The money problem, he says, is an important one.

“We are all volunteers. We were aware of the fact that we would have to do everything we did as volunteers, but that has limited us.”

He added that most of the members have other responsibilities, such as day jobs, that demand much of their time. Hernández is a local activist, Armando Rodríguez is a judge, Ricardo Flores is a member of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce in Fresno and Teresa de la Rosa is director of advocacy for O.L.A. Raza Inc.’s center for immigrant rights.

Plus, the group of council members that represent this area have responsibility over seven counties, which means that they are spread thin.

“We do need a stronger commitment, not only from the advisors but from all of society, the media and Mexico’s government,” Hernández said.

“We don’t have a specific telephone number, each advisor uses his own resources to make themselves known,” he added.

Another advisor, Ricardo Flores, who sits on the Commission for Economic and Commercial Affairs, said that the main problem is the lack of public relations and promotional resources granted to the Council.

“We have a fax number and an Internet page but this information has not been disseminated,” he said. Flores, besides being an advisor, owns a restaurant in Fresno.

Mexico’s Consul in Fresno, Jaime Paz y Puente, said that the most effective manner for people to bring their problems to the Advisory Council is to attend the forums that the advisors organize periodically.

“I think that they have convened forums for the public. There is also an email where members of the public can write them,” the consul said.

He added that any person that has a general issue they want to bring up with the Advisory Council they can contact the Mexican consulate for guidance on how to reach Advisory Council members.

“(But) when it is an individual problem, people can simply come to the consulate for help,” he said.

Translated by Marcelo Ballvé

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