THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL
ment their children as dual nationals, so they can enjoy the rights
and responsibilities of citizenship in both countries.
The initiative is focused on states with high concentrations
of migrants, including Oaxaca, Jalisco, Guanajuato, Michoacán
and those along the border. U.S. officials are teaming up with
local Mexican immigration, education and health agencies to
find migrants through passport fairs, media campaigns and rural
outreach programs and equip themwith information about how
to get documented. The goal is to get migrant families to register
their children for a Mexican birth record and a U.S. passport.
But finding migrant families is easier said than done. “This is a
very hard population to reach,” says Lang. Fear of engaging with
immigration officials (who could initiate removal proceedings),
misinformation about further legal consequences for undocu-
mented presence, illiteracy, lack of expertise on immigration law
and ignorance of civil rights are all huge barriers to reaching a
population that, due to their lack of status in the United States,
lives largely in secrecy.
As Lang puts it: “They aren’t about to march into an embassy
or consulate or passport agency and let the U.S. government know
where they are.”
The Burden of Under-Documentation
Media attention tends to focus on either the estimated 11.5
million undocumented immigrants living illegally in the United
States or on the thousands of migrant children fromCentral
America trying to cross the border.
But the hundreds of thousands of undocumented U.S. citizens
living in Mexico have gone largely unnoticed until now. Thanks to
the mobilization behind Documéntate, the issue became one of
the talking points between Presidents Barack Obama and Enrique
Peña Nieto during their 2015 binational talks—with good reason.
For Mexico, this vast population of under-documented dual
nationals represents a growing burden, hampering the country’s
socioeconomic growth. Without proper documentation, tens of
thousands are shut out of public services; over time, this can drag
down the economy because under-documented often means
under-schooled. And the correlation among lack of education,
poverty and crime is clear: kids who do not finish school are more
likely to be poor and more likely to enter a life of crime. This fact
is not lost on Mission Mexico, which has pointed out the clear
resource implications down the line for the already heavy work-
load at ACS units across the country.
One case paints a particularly grim picture. As Embassy
Mexico City described it, a 12-year-old boy who was born in the
United States returned to Mexico when he was 2 years old. Since
he was never registered as a Mexican citizen, he could not attend
school. He spent his days washing car windows for change at a
The hundreds of thousands of
undocumented U.S. citizens
living in Mexico have gone
largely unnoticed until now.
Deputy Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Karin Lang, head of American Citizen Services at Embassy Mexico City, talk with a young
U.S. citizen applying for her first passport at a Documéntate event in Mexico City, April 2015.