SAN JOSE, Calif. (The Mercury News/TNS) - Fearing deportation under the Trump administration, Mexican immigrants across California are rushing to register their American-born children as dual citizens — an emergency plan in case they’re deported and compelled to uproot their families to Mexico.
Officials with the Mexican consulate said they’re seeing a surge in applications like never before, forcing them to work longer hours and to consider hiring additional staff as they scramble to keep up with the demand.
The consulate in San Jose processed 86 registrations for dual citizenship in February — about double the number of registrations from the previous month — and had processed 30 registrations this month as of March 10. Appointments are booked to capacity, and the consulate plans to open its offices for an unusual Saturday shift, on March 18, to process those particular registrations.
Meanwhile in San Francisco, the consulate processed 94 registrations in February — up 42 percent from the previous month — and 28 registrations so far this month, as of March 9. With some applications for dual citizenship taking up to a month to complete, numbers are likely to increase even more in April, and officials are preparing to hire another staff member to meet the demand, said Jesus Gutierrez, consul of documentation at the Mexican consulate in San Francisco.
“The department is blowing up,” he said.
Gutierrez said the pandemonium is based on a single misconception: that U.S.-born children would not be allowed into Mexico without proper documentation.
“For some reason, parents think that if they don’t formally register their kids, they can’t take them with them to Mexico,” he said in Spanish.
That concern is unfounded, said Gutierrez, noting that the process for dual citizenship is actually much simpler to complete in Mexico. The country already is preparing to take in a large number of American-born children, he said.
Gerardo Galvan and his wife, Lizbeth Navarro, envision a bright future for their young sons here in the United States. But as undocumented Mexican immigrants, they’re preparing for the worst. The couple spent last Friday at the Mexican Consulate in San Jose, registering their American-born son Maximiliano for dual citizenship.
The couple wants to make sure that 4-year-old Maximiliano and his 11-year-old brother Gerardo — who’s already registered — are entitled to the same rights in Mexico that they have in the U.S.
“More than anything, we’re doing this in case our family is separated. Right now, we don’t know if our application for legal residency will be blocked or if we’ll be apprehended suddenly and won’t have a chance to call someone,” said Galvan, 40. “We need to be prepared if we want to see our family together again.”
It’s the latest wave of panic to rattle immigrant communities since President Donald Trump was inaugurated. Fears have hit all-time highs following mass ICE roundups across the country and the arrests of at least two Dreamers, both of whom were supposedly protected from deportation under a federal program known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.
Last month, the Trump administration announced new deportation regulations in which anyone in the country illegally who is charged with any offense or is suspected of committing a crime could be a target for deportation. The measures drastically expand the number of undocumented immigrants vulnerable to deportation.
“We know that this is a very extreme version of what mass deportation might look like,” said Nora Preciado, a staff attorney with the Los Angeles-based National Immigration Law Center. “The executive orders signed on internal enforcement and the administration’s rhetoric, send a signal that there are no priorities for deportation anymore. Anyone here illegally is a priority and therefore a target.”
Several parents at the Mexican consulate in San Jose said they’re registering their kids as Mexican nationals only as a precaution and have no immediate plans to leave the country. They want their children to have equal access to education, health benefits and social services as any child in Mexico would. That wouldn’t be possible if they weren’t citizens, they said.
San Jose residents Rufina Cabrera and her husband are in the process of registering 9-year-old Valeria and 7-year-old Salvador as dual citizens.
“It’s to reassure myself and to make sure the kids have a good quality of life in Mexico as much as in the U.S.,” she said in Spanish. “I’ve been living with fear and anxiety because I’m not in this country legally.”
When Mexico began offering dual nationality in 1998, it was in part to encourage its emigrants to retain their American citizenship, or at least to make them feel as though they could hold on to both, according to Stanford sociologist Tomas Jimenez. The Mexican government also hoped it would encourage its emigrants in the U.S. to advocate for Mexico on all fronts, he added.
The irony today, according to Jimenez, is that some Mexican immigrants in the U.S. have no way of becoming American citizens and are using dual citizenship for their children “as an insurance,” instead of advocating for Mexico.
Consulate officials have been quick to encourage undocumented immigrants to register their children, telling them at a recent workshop, “They don’t lose absolutely anything by becoming Mexican.”
The growing number of dual citizenship applications has some speculating that perhaps Mr. Trump is succeeding in pushing undocumented immigrants out of the country.
Jazmin Amezcua, deputy consul general at the Mexican Consulate of San Jose, said she knows of some families who have self-deported — a term coined to describe undocumented immigrants who willingly return to their home country to avoid deportation — but said it’s rare.
The number of people who self-deport is so small that it does very little to advance Mr. Trump’s push to significantly clamp down on illegal immigration and could never eliminate as many as 11 million undocumented immigrants, according to Jimenez.