California has more Mexican immigrants living within its borders than Texas. But in the Lone Star State, the Mexican community is much more diverse. That's just one takeaway from Mexican Consul Carlos González Gutiérrez. After one month at the helm of Austin's 75-year-old consulate general's office, González, who served most recently as his country's consul in Sacramento, discussed the challenges and benefits of being a Mexican national in the capital city.
The following is an edited and condensed transcript of the interview.
The Texas Tribune: How was the consulate’s office in Austin selected? Is it based on how many Mexican nationals are in a city?
Carlos González Gutiérrez: The consulate of Mexico in Austin has been here since 1940. We have 50 consulates all around the United States; 11 of them are in Texas.
The responsibility of this consulate general, like any other consulate, is to promote and protect the rights of our nationals in our jurisdictions, promote its interests, and to promote the image and the prestige of Mexico. Because we are in the capital city, a particular responsibility of ours is to follow up and monitor and inform our government about public policies that are designed at the Capitol and the governor’s office that will have an impact on Mexicans living in Texas. We also ensure that we are able to transmit to elected and appointed officials our positions in a transparent and clear way.
TT: Do most people that arrive at the consulate have complaints about the way they are treated? Why do most people come here?
CGG: The most basic, and perhaps most important, service we can provide is documentation services. We provide travel documents such as passports or ID documents, like consular IDs. We also provide birth certificates and powers of attorneys so people don’t have to go to Mexico to conduct a commercial operation. I can act as a civil judge abroad, and according to Mexican law I can marry people. Besides that, there is a protection department. Our responsibility is to provide legal protections to Mexicans in dire straits. We help them with advice, make sure they understand their legal situation, and sometimes we are able to provide them legal counsel, or we refer them to trusted sources of legal counsel. We visit prisons, we visit hospitals. Like any other consulate in the world, we have strong immigration advice for people who live here on an irregular migratory status.
TT: Do you ever speak to state officials about state immigration policies, like the debate to eliminate in-state tuition for undocumented students? Do you testify or meet with the governor’s staff or other lawmakers on those issues?
CGG: Yes, on almost a daily basis. I do not testify. I am a diplomat, a representative of a foreign government. Even if I were invited to a hearing, it would not be appropriate for me to testify in front of another sovereignty.
TT: That’s according to Mexican law?
CGG: Yes, it’s our policy.
TT: So you meet behind closed doors with officials?
CGG: What I do is transmit the position of my government on different issues. The U.S.-Mexico relationship, in particular the Texas-Mexico relationship, it’s unique in terms of its intermestic character. “Intermestic” is a concept that tries to define a relationship in which the line that divides the domestic policy and its foreign policy is blurred. There are many areas of policy that are designed and implemented with a domestic policy focus. But nevertheless, they have an impact across the border. So on the one hand, it’s our responsibility at the consulate to let the Mexican government know in Mexico City what the priorities are here. But on the other it’s also in the interest of Texas’ decision makers and, of course, for Mexico to have an active consul in Austin and an active consulate general that is able to transmit with transparency and clarity what are positions are.
TT: How are you chosen for this office?
CGG: I am a member of the Mexican Foreign Service, and I have been for 28 years. I have reached the rank of ambassador, which is the top rank of a diplomatic career. I have been able to focus exclusively on Mexican communities in the United States. This is my vocation. This is the area I have been able to concentrate on in my professional career.
Previously I was the consulate general of Mexico in Sacramento. I was the executive director of the institute for Mexicans abroad in the foreign ministry. I have also had positions in the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C., and the consulate general of Mexico in Los Angeles.
TT: Do you see that from state to state and city to city, the needs and services you provide are the same? Or do you think the Mexicans living here have different needs or concerns than they do in California?
CGG: When you talk about our diaspora, you cannot talk about the one Mexican community. You have to talk about the many Mexican communities in the United States. And that is not truer than in Texas. The diversity, the variety, the complexity of the many Mexican communities that coincide here makes my job very challenging and very fascinating. It goes from the Mexican undocumented worker that had to cross the border surreptitiously to the other extreme of a highly skilled Mexican national that lives in Austin because of the global hunt for talent. And in the middle you can think about many other possibilities and communities. The university also attracts a lot of brilliant Mexican students. It’s completely diverse.
TT: How long is your term here in Austin?
CGG: I serve at the please of the president. We are nominated by the president and then ratified by the Senate. Usually a traditional diplomatic tour of duty lasts between two and five years.
TT: Is that enough time to do what you want to do in Austin?
CGG: It better be. I have to start fast, and the foreign ministry is supporting this consulate very heavily. We are going to be moving to a building that is more appropriate for our needs. We are going to increase our infrastructure in terms of officers that are working at the consulate. Texas is Mexico’s most important partner in the United States. We trade annually about $200 billion, which is twice the amount of [trade between] the U.K. and the U.S. It’s three times what Mexico trades with California, and our prosperity depends on Texas and Texas’ prosperity depends on Mexico. My job is to make sure that awareness of that contribution is widespread. My job is to make sure that people who love Mexico and believe in this relationship contribute their talents and resources to strengthen that relationship.
TT: When President Obama announced the extension of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and the Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA), this office started offering birth certificates to help people apply for the DAPA initiative. Did you change those policies after the immigration plans were placed on hold by the courts?
CGG: No, we are making sure that people understand that the traditional DACA services (announced in 2012) have not been canceled and that almost half of the population that could benefit from it still has not applied. So we have created new programs, such as a partial reimbursement that we are offering to Mexican nationals who come here and ask for help to apply. The fee is $465; we help them with $150 reimbursement once the process is finished. We are also making sure that people do not fall prey to unscrupulous attorneys or non-attorneys who want to take advantage of the confusion.
The most important challenge that I have is that Mexican nationals understand that we are here to help, that this is a house of services. When your migratory status is irregular ...
TT: How would you define “irregular”? You mean “undocumented”?
CGG: Yes, let’s be more clear. If you are undocumented and living in Texas, you could have been here for two decades as an undocumented immigrant. When you are living your life that way, you have a permanent feeling of vulnerability because you know you can be deported at any moment. So a particular challenge for the consulate is making sure Mexican nationals understand this office is not an authority from which they should keep a distance, but instead an office that is here to help. It’s an office that is staffed by professional, trained people that will help integrate them into U.S. society.
TT: Is this building considered Mexican soil, like an embassy? Can someone come here for protection? Is U.S. law enforcement allowed in here?
CGG: It has diplomatic and consular immunity. It’s not as if it is Mexican territory. If the unthinkable happened, we’d need to call the police. But there are certain procedures and protocols that according to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations have to be followed. They cannot enter without an invitation from the head of the mission.
TT: Are you a member of the PRI (Institutional Revolutionary Party) in Mexico?
CGG: No, I am not a member of any political party. I am a career diplomat and a Foreign Service official. Being a career diplomat allows me to work with whoever is elected president by the people of Mexico.
TT: Do you have an opinion in the recent nomination of Secretary Roberta Jacobson for the United States ambassador to Mexico?
CGG: Yes, I think that it’s one of the top-ranked diplomats that the United States has. Her nomination has been very well received in Mexico, and it shows clearly the top-priority status Mexico has for the president of the United States. And I am sure she will be welcomed with open arms in Mexico.