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THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL

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OCTOBER 2016

51

can state-level migrant assistance agencies that provide applica-

tion information directly tomigrant communities, assist with filling

out paperwork and sometimes organize transportation—all formi-

dable obstacles for migrant family members, who often come from

lower socioeconomic strata. At the fairs consular officers answer

nervous parents’ questions about documentation requirements

and accept passport applications for the U.S.-born children. Many

families tell consular officers they did not understand they could

apply for U.S. passports inMexico; many add that they would never

have been able to fill out the forms on their own.

These outreach efforts require hundreds of hours of planning

and labor, stretching already tight consular budgets. However, to

date, thousands of children have qualified for their U.S. passports

through these special events. It is a good start. But when consider-

ing the estimated population of 600,000 undocumented U.S.-

citizen kids in Mexico, it is just a drop in the bucket.

North of the Border

As Mission Mexico grapples with how to find migrant families

with U.S.-born kids in Mexico, the State Department has been

tackling the problem north of the border.

According to Geoff Martineau, the division chief for Western

hemisphere affairs in the Bureau of Consular Affairs’ Office of

Overseas Citizens Services, the solution lies in the vast communi-

ties of migrants already in the United States, many of whom live in

the shadow of the law. “What we need to do is turn off the tap of

U.S. children going south into Mexico without documents,” says

Martineau.

FromWashington, CA’s Office of Passport Services (CA/PPT)

works with Martineau’s office to amplify the Documéntate initia-

tive in the United States—from domestic campaigns in Spanish

media to partnering with labor groups and religious organizations

in U.S. cities. The State Department recently published a Spanish-

language page about applying for passports on its website, travel.

state.gov.

But for Martineau, the most promising development is col-

laboration with Mexican consular officers. “There are 50 Mexican

consulates in the United States, and they do vigorous outreach to

their citizens on migrant workers’ rights. They know where their

people are. And we can join with them, because we have the same

target population,” he points out.

When U.S. passport agencies team up with Mexican consular

outreach, the results are significant. Efforts are underway, where

possible, to put U.S. passport information in Mexican consular

waiting rooms, which has a huge impact. For example, Mexico’s

Los Angeles consular district alone comprises 1.7 million Mexi-

cans, and that generates significant foot traffic through the local

Mexican consulate.

Much of the U.S. groundwork for the State Department is

being carried out by CA/PPT, through Community Relations

Officer Andres Rodriguez, and in close coordination with the

staffs at the passport agencies and centers. Rodriguez was recently

invited to observe a Mexican “consulate on wheels” event that

visited a church in Charlottesville, Virginia. He came away deeply

impressed.

“They had a small team of people with laptops and printers,

and they were doing all the things a consulate does—registering

people for Mexican birth certificates, fingerprinting, taking photos

and printing passports—all from this community church,” reports

Rodriguez. The mobile Mexican team issued consular reports of

birth abroad to nearly 100 people that day. There are dozens of

teams conducting similar consular outreach year-round to reach

the millions of Mexicans living in the United States.

Rodriguez is currently working on a strategy for CA/PPT to

use its network of U.S. passport agencies to conduct information

outreach through community groups who work with migrants,

like Catholic Charities, the United Farmworkers Foundation and

other migrant community groups. The challenge, he says, is not

just putting the message out there; it is finding the right messen-

ger. “These are not people we can just hand a pamphlet or send to

a website. That’s not going to work,” he says. “It has to be one-on-

one communication. It comes down to trust. I think the best way

to disseminate the message is through trusted third parties.”

Rodriguez is on the frontline of a highly contentious issue. At

an event he attended in Fresno, California, Rodriguez met with

20 farmworkers fromOaxaca, many of whom spoke Spanish as a

second language after their native tongue, Mixteca. “I asked them,

howmany of you have children born in the United States? About

17 people raised their hands. And howmany of your kids have a

The goal of Documéntate

is simple: collaborate with

Mexican authorities to reach

migrant families and help

them fully document their

children as dual nationals.