Miami, Mar 4: Not only is the Mexican government not building a wall; it's spending USD 50 million to beef up its legal aid to migrants who fear deportation, a response to President Donald Trump's crackdown on illegal immigration.
All 50 Mexican consulates in the US on Friday launched legal assistance centers to form partnerships with nonprofit groups and tap lawyers to help those fearing Trump's policies. The diplomatic effort comes as the two countries are in a rift over Trump's plans for a border wall.
While Trump says Mexico will pay for it one way or another, Mexico says it won't. It was also unveiled less than two weeks after new guidelines came out aimed at aggressively detaining and deporting immigrants by increasing the number of federal agents and strengthening cooperation with local law enforcement.
Miami's Mexican consul general, Jose Antonio Zabalgoitia, said Friday that these centers would become "authentic advocates of the rights of Mexican migrants." "What changes today is that we are prioritizing legal matters over everything. Previously, we didn't have the need to seek so much legal support for our people," he said. "But now, we need to protect them against an eventual deportation."
Mexican consulates are forming partnerships with law schools, immigration clinics and nonprofit groups that litigate on behalf of immigrants. The centers are staffed with Mexican lawyers who can refer cases to organizations or clinics. They are also reaching out to private law firms interested in taking on pro-bono work.
Consulates from Mexico and other Central American nations have been juggling numerous inquiries in recent months from migrants concerned about their fate and that of their US-born children. Zabalgoitia said the increase in requests for documents and help is "enormous," as he pointed to a waiting room with dozens of people carrying folders of documents in need of birth certificates, Mexican passports and other identifications.
"I used to sign two birth certificates a week. Only yesterday, I signed 15." The increasing demand comes from people like Gloria Portillo, who went to the Mexican consulate in Phoenix on Friday to renew her passport. Her visa expired three years ago, and now she is trying to start the process of becoming a legal resident after marrying a US citizen but fears something could happen in the meantime.
"We've been here all of our lives, we have kids, and of course we're afraid to be deported," she said, also speaking of friends and relatives living in the US illegally.