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Fears, rights and the targeting of immigrants: A Q&A with the head consul at the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul

These days, part of Gerardo Guerrero Gomez’s work is reassuring would-be immigrants, Dreamers, and Mexican-Americans about their adopted country’s creeping anti-immigrant attitudes.

Gerardo Guerrero Gomez
These days, part of Gerardo Guerrero Gomez's work is reassuring would-be immigrants, Dreamers, and Mexican-Americans about their adopted country’s creeping anti-immigrant attitudes.
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

“I’m a little insulted, because it seems like with immigration, [the United States] only has a problem with Muslims and Mexicans,” said Gerardo Guerrero Gomez at the outset of his remarks at an “Immigrant Moral Witness, Moral Action” forum in January at First Universalist Church of Minneapolis.

A native of Mexico City and an attorney who received his degree from the University of Houston, Guerrero Gomez has been a diplomat with the Mexican Foreign Service since 1987. He has worked at the Consulate of Mexico in New York and as legal adviser to the office of the foreign minister in Mexico, and came to Minnesota three years ago to become head consul at the Consulate of Mexico in St. Paul, which serves residents and would-be residents of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and northern Wisconsin.

The St. Paul consulate launched in 2005, and prior to that, Mexicans looking to relocate to Minnesota had to travel to the Consulate of Mexico in Chicago for any legal needs. As head consul, Guerrero Gomez’s work is the boilerplate stuff of any consulate — providing visas, passports, birth certificates and cultural, legal, and economic services, and promoting Mexico’s business and educational opportunities. But these days, part of his work is reassuring would-be immigrants, Dreamers, and Mexican-Americans about their adopted country’s creeping anti-immigrant attitudes.

Around the same time Guerrero Gomez took the reins at the consulate in St. Paul, Donald Trump announced his candidacy for president, saying in his announcement speech: “Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.”

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The immigration climate has only worsened since. At a time of horror stories from the border, as newly emboldened racism against Spanish-speaking immigrants rises, and the State Department issued a security alert for spring breakers, Guerro Gomez sat down with MinnPost to talk about his work, Mexico, Minnesota, the border, and immigration.

MinnPost: At the forum in January, you said you were offended because when talking about immigration, “you only have a problem with Muslims and Mexicans.” Let’s talk about that.

Gerardo Guerrero Gomez: Yes, I’m sure you agree with this. The United States is a country that receives the most immigrants in the world. It’s not just Mexico or Central America, but from China or Europe, it’s from everywhere. But lately Mexico and some Muslim countries have been targeted because, you know, immigration. But I have to say, I think we have to change that targeting, because Mexican people coming from Mexico have been great contributors to the United States and the state of Minnesota. For example, the documented and undocumented people generate 8 percent of the GDP of the United States.

MP: But all we hear about these days is the United States government’s demonizing of immigrants. Since you’ve been here, how have the most recent new Americans transformed Minnesota?

GGG: Lake Street, for example. It was a bad area. Now, not just Mexican, but also Somali and Hispanic communities have been working very hard and now Lake Street in Minneapolis is a very prosperous area, and that has changed a lot.

Here in Minnesota, [Mexican-Americans] are very hard-working people. For example, in 2016 they paid 2.3 million dollars in taxes, even though they are not all documented, and they pay taxes and they sometimes don’t receive the services they deserve.

So I say, as a Mexican, I feel really offended, because there are good people and bad people in the world. For example, you have a lot of American people who go to Mexico, and sometimes they are not so good, and we never target those people. Unfortunately, we see immigration as a problem instead of an opportunity, as an asset for the community — in many ways, in cultural and economic ways, and I think diversity helps and it’s very possible for a society.

MP: What about what the president has said about Mexicans? How did that feel and how, if in any way, does your office respond?

GGG: Something that we have to say is that Mexico, we do not promote immigration to another country. What we have been doing in the last two years, specifically, we have been trying to strengthen our support for the people, and try to teach them what their rights are. Because even if they are undocumented or whatever, they have constitutional rights. They have the right to due process, the right to see a judge before being deported or before anything. In the last two years, we have been closer to the community and we have been strengthening our links to that community. In the last two years, we have done lots of “road shows” about knowing your rights, and naturalization, and migratory information.

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MP: You came here just before the beginning of the Trump administration. How has what he’s been saying about immigrants and Mexico, and the “caravan” and the border wall, affected the work here at the consulate on a day-to-day basis?

GGG: The situation here in Minnesota is totally different from the situation in Texas or Arizona. The authorities have a different attitude. For example, we had with Governor Dayton, and we now have it with Governor Walz, a positive manner to the migrant people. For example, Governor Walz says he wants a unified Minnesota, and that includes immigrant communities, and that’s very important.

But of course, people are concerned. They have fear. They are emotional and they have a lot of stress because of the situation. This rhetoric about immigrants and how they ought to be deported and for example, President Trump a few days ago signed an order where he wants visas or working permits even for professional people to come to the United States. But like I say, it’s different here in Minnesota, where we get a lot of support from the authorities.

MP: With talk about the wall and the border and the fear, how if in any way is your office helping with that?

GGG: We are not really involved with that, because we are far away from the border, so we are not facing those kinds of problems. So my colleagues at the consulate in Texas are the ones dealing with that. We have a very large border. If you see the numbers, Mexicans coming into the United States have been reducing since 2014. Less Mexicans are coming to the United States, [but] more people from Central America are coming to the United States, and they have to do it through Mexico. So we have a big problem at the border.

Even in the states of Texas or Minnesota, they may support the construction of the wall because they have an economical interest in the border. So the first consequence of this is that trade is really going to be affected by this, and the other thing is we don’t know what the environmental impact will be on the border. We have a very complicated situation at the border, and our position is that we don’t promote immigration. We do provide support to people from Central America who are seeking asylum.

MP: What is the main thing you deal with, in regards to some of the rhetoric we’ve been hearing over the past few years?

GGG: People are really fearful, really concerned. People have to live with that. At the beginning, a lot of people came to the consulate here with panic attacks. We had to provide for our neighbors, and give psychological support to the people, but after two years (of Trump), we have to live with that. It was very sad that migrants came here to the consulate and said, “My children don’t want to go to school because they’re really really scared when they come back from school: “We are not going to be here.” So we had to provide legal support, and sometimes we had to help psychologically, and we’ve been doing that a lot.

We have a very good relationship with the office of ICE here in Minnesota, whose office is at the airport. Even though we play in different fields, I have to say and I have to recognize that our relationship with ICE is really, really good and each of us, we try to do our job the best way we can.

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MP: When you say you have a good relationship with ICE, what does that mean?

GGG: For example, I meet with the regulator twice or three times per year. I can reach him at any moment. Of course, they are doing deportations to Mexico, but they are respecting the process and we have very good communication with them. For example, weekly they have an airplane deporting people to Mexico, and we are allowed to go and check on the people who are being deported to see if they are in good health conditions and have enough information. They are very accessible with us; whenever we need information about any person, they will always provide it. They are doing their job and we understand that perfectly well, and we are doing our job, and we have a collaborative relationship.

MP: Given the horrible things Trump has said about immigrants, what would you want to tell people about Mexico and Mexican-Americans? And what would you want people in Mexico to know about the United States?

GGG: We have a very complex relationship and we need to understand that we have a bilateral relationship; it’s not just a straight line or just immigration. We share a very long border, for example. We have interests, and sometimes we might share interests, sometimes we have different interests, but we need to understand that we’ve had a very necessary and a very long relationship. We are friends, we are allies, we are neighbors.

So I think we need to inform people. As I said before, Mexicans here, they pay taxes and they have spending power that is very, very important. They do a lot of things. They do a lot of jobs … you need to have those workers here. The kind of work they do, you don’t have enough people to do that job. But things are changing. A lot of people are coming, and they are professionals, and they are highly educated and qualified, so the profile is changing, and we need to change the [perception] of who the Mexican migrant is.   

My organization [covers] three states, and even in other states, like North and South Dakota, which are Republican states, the government is always like, “We need these workers.” And of course we cannot support undocumented immigration, but we really support [having] a workers’ program that allows these people to come and work here. So even in those states, they say, “We need them.” So we need to see immigration as an opportunity, and as an asset, not as a problem.

For example, in Austin here, they have a program called Welcome To America.

And at that program, they say, “They are here, we want them in the community, we want them involved in the community.” So the best way to deal with this is to welcome them. And, for example, I’ve met with the mayors of St. Paul and Minneapolis, and they are very, very supportive of our people and our work. They have programs for immigrants, and we are going to keep working really, really hard for our people, and we need to watch that the human rights of the people be observed.