By Domenico Maceri
In its efforts to help its citizens identify themselves in the US, the
Mexican government instituted a matricula consular, an identity card
available to those who might not have other forms of ID. It's been a popular
and useful document. Many American banks and local US government agencies
accept it as a legitimate I.D.
Now to help save lives of Mexican nationals who may cross into the US
without papers, the Mexican government has published Guia del Migrante
Mexicano (Guide to Mexican Migrant), an illustrated handout providing advice
on how to stay alive and other useful information.
Will the booklet increase border crossings?
Yes, say officials of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. Rick
Oltman, a spokesperson for the group stated that it will even increase more
"tragic deaths" because it will serve as encouragement for people to make
the dangerous journey.
Mexican government officials disagree. They believe that the information
provided will neither increase nor decrease the number of illegal crossings.
It will simply save lives.
More than 1 million copies of the booklet have been printed. They include 32
pages of text and illustrations and are being distributed at government
offices and insides Mexican magazines. They are also available online and at
Mexican consulate offices in the US.
Tips on staying alive are provided. They include advice on how much water to
bring, how to cross a river, the clothing necessary, how not to get lost,
and not to trust smugglers.
The handbook also provides information about rights people have if
apprehended. The advice is to cooperate with American authorities and not
give false information. The booklet also lists the location of Mexican
consulates in the US. It reminds Mexican nationals in the US that they can
call their country's representatives to ask for assistance.
Although the focus of the booklet is on advice to staying alive, it does
include some information aiming to discourage people planning to cross the
Most analysts believe that the booklet will not increase illegal immigration
from Mexico. However, it might save lives of people who have already decided
to make the journey and have little or no clue about what's awaiting them or
how to survive.
Providing advice not to make the trip to the US without appropriate papers
has already been done by American officials. The idea is to point out the
dangers of coming to the US illegally.
The Mexican booklet is different in that its focus is on providing tips that
will help people stay alive if they end up in dangerous situations. Several
hundred migrants die crossing the border illegally every year.
Mexico does not do a very good job of providing employment to its citizens.
Yet, it recognizes that its citizens have rights whether they live in their
country or abroad. The matricula consular has been a success which other
countries with undocumented workers are imitating. Guatemala and Ecuador
provide similar forms of identification to their citizens living abroad.
Nicaragua, El Salvador, Peru, Brazil, and Poland are planning to do the
The publication of the Guide to Mexican Migrant is another example of
Mexico's officials as they try to help their very vulnerable citizens
outside their borders.
In many ways, the Mexican government is doing what the US counterpart does
when it provides advisories to its citizens traveling abroad.
The publication of the booklet may not please some Americans, but Mexico has
the right and indeed its duty to protect its citizens and save their lives
regardless of where they happened to be.
Ideally, Mexico's government would restructure its economy in ways that
would offer people opportunities and incentives to stay home. The US should
help. We are spending billions to fix and stabilize Iraq. Maybe we should
help our southern neighbor? It would not cost nearly that much.
Domenico Maceri (http://languageblogger.blogspot.com/),
PhD, UC Santa Barbara, a contributing columnist to HispanicVista.com (www.hispanicvista.com),
teaches foreign languages at Allan
in Santa Maria, CA.