This post is dedicated to all individuals and institutions participating in the IME's activities and programs through its 20-year history.
On Sunday, April 16, the Institute of Mexicans Abroad (Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior) celebrated its 20th anniversary. On that day in 2003, the government of Mexico published the Decreet that established this new diaspora engagement institution in the Federal Registry.
The Institute, also known as the IME (for its acronym in Spanish), revolutionized the relationships between the government of Mexico (especially the executive branch of the federal government) and the Mexican community in the United States and Canada. For the first time in history, Mexican migrants and second-generation and National Hispanic organizations sat at the table by participating in the IME's Advisory Council (known as the Consejo Consultivo del IME or CCIME).
The IME also profoundly transmuted the role of the consulates and hometown associations in their host municipalities and states, engaging with a wide variety of actors from businesses and local authorities to civil society organizations and institutions. They developed effective and long-lasting partnerships to cater to the needs of the Mexican community in North America. Their activities can be classified as a successful public diplomacy effort (Márquez Lartigue, 2023).
Even though migration to the United States has been a constant in some states in Mexico for over a century, significant changes dramatically transformed the situation in the late 1980s and through the 1990s.
The combination of several factors metamorphosed Mexican migrants from temporary workers into a permanent diaspora:
Besides, the government of Mexico reformed its consular system, including the establishment of the Program of Mexican Communities Abroad in 1990, expanded its consular network, and granted greater autonomy to consular officers to actively engage with Mexican community leaders, local and state authorities, and civil society organizations (González Gutiérrez, 1997). Government officials encouraged the establishment of Hometown Associations and confederations among migrants and Migrants Care Offices (Oficinas de Atención a Migrantes) by Mexican provincial and even municipal authorities.
After the failure to negotiate a migration accord with the U.S. in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the government of Mexico created the National Council for Mexican Communities Abroad in the summer of 2002. One of the council's tasks was to receive recommendations from consultative mechanisms (Diario Oficial de la Federación, 2002).
The establishment of the IME
In the autumn of 2002, Mexican consulates across the United States and Canada invited migrant community leaders to participate in the selection process of an advisory board that was going to be established as part of the IME.
Ayón (2006) explains that the IME was added to traditional consular programs such as documentary services (passports, notary public, and visas) and assistance to distressed citizens because the Institute could "plan, handle, propose, and pursue national and binational strategic goals and respond to the challenges that transcend the consular district" (p. 132).
IME's first Executive Director indicated that the institute had three primary functions: information dissemination, empowerment of the communities, and provision of innovative new services that go beyond regular consular programs (González Gutiérrez, 2009).
Regarding information distribution, the IME had three major programs:
The consular network began offering social services through partnerships with non-governmental organizations, authorities, and even businesses. These services centered on non-traditional areas such as education (Plazas Comunitarias -Basic Adult Education- program, scholarships -IME Becas-, and exchange of teachers, among others), health (centered around the Ventanillas de Salud or Health Desks and the Binational Health Week); financial education and investment of remittances (Financial Advisory Desk -Ventanilla de Asesoría Financiera-, the Three-for-one program, and Directo a Mexico.
The most important task was the empowerment of the Mexican community through the CCIME and participation in the information and services agendas (Ayón 2006, p. 132).
In many ways, the government of Mexico, through its consular network, was already working on most of these programs before the creation of the IME. Notwithstanding, the key innovative aspect of the institute was its advisory council. For the first time, its approximately 120 members from across the U.S. and Canada gathered at least twice a year to prepare recommendations about policies directed at Mexican migrants in North America. The first director of the Institute, Don Cándido Morales, was also a migrant from Oaxaca living In California.
Even though the CCIME had limited responsibilities centered on presenting non-binding recommendations, it provided a national platform for migrant leaders. On the one hand, they meet and engage each other, strengthening their advocacy and organization skills. It was an executive leadership training academy (Ayón, 2006, p. 135). On the other hand, it opened the doors to authorities on both sides of the border at all levels. It facilitated their engagement with civil society and, for some, in political activities.
Giving Mexican migrants a voice and visibility through the CCIME was helpful as it helped expand many of the IME programs, such as the Health Desks and the creation of IME Becas. Also, many board members advocated enacting the overseas absentee vote implementing law in 2005 and the migrant demonstrations of the Spring of 2006.
The IME has evolved thought its 20 years of existence, but most of its core functions continue to this day. In 2022, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched the 2022-2024 Action Plan for Mexicans living overseas, which contains nearly 40 activities.
IME's successful public diplomacy
Without using the term public diplomacy, the IME's activities can be defined as such. Its programs encompass Professor Nicholas Cull's (2019) five elements of public diplomacy listening, advocacy, cultural activities, and educational exchanges. Even there was some international broadcasting in the form of electronic information bulletins.
Interestingly, the target audiences were migrants themselves. However, it did not stop there; through its many undertakings, consular offices engaged with all sorts of people and organizations and slowly built long-lasting partnerships. Thus, nowadays, the IME "has about 2,000 partners in Mexico and the USA" (Mendoza Sánchez & Cespedes Cantú, 2021).
Another contribution of the IME was that many countries, from Uruguay to Morocco and Türkiye to Colombia, requested meetings and attended some of its activities to learn more about the country's diaspora engagement programs. (Laglagaron, 2010, p. 39; Délano, 2014). The IME generated soft power for Mexico's diplomacy soft power, as it attracted attention around the globe.
It has also generated consular partnerships with other Latin American consulates in programs like Binational Health Week and Labor Rights Week that are celebrated across the U.S. every year. With the countries of the Northern Triangle of Central America, several consulates established consular coordination schemes known as Tricamex.
One of the most outstanding achievements of the IME was reducing the barriers between the government and the migrants. After years of hard work, little by little, it has gained the community's trust, which was very little. Significant investments in the modernization of documentary services have also resulted in better quality services.
The Institute also gave way to the rise of Mexico's public-consular diplomacy. To learn more about its origins and features, read my practitioner's essay in the Journal of Public Diplomacy titled Beyond Traditional Boundaries: The Origins and Features of the Public-Consular Diplomacy of Mexico.
Ayón, D.R. (2006). La política mexicana y la movilización de los migrantes en Estdos Unidos. In Carlos Gónzalez Gutiérrez (coor.), Relaciones Estado-diáspora: La perspectiva de América Latina y el Caribe. Tomo II, (pp. 113-144). Ciudad de México. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores.
Cull, N. J. (2019). Public Diplomacy: Foundations for Global Engagement in the Digital Age. (Kindle Edition).
Délano, A. (2014). The diffusion of diaspora engagement policies: A Latin American agenda. Political Geography, 41, 90-100. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.polgeo.2013.11.007.
Diario Oficial de la Federación. (2002, August 8). Acuerdo por el que se crea el Consejo Nacional para las Comunidades Mexicanas en el Exterior. https://www.dof.gob.mx/nota_detalle.php?codigo=721574&fecha=08/08/2002#gsc.tab=0
Diario Oficial de la Federación. (2003, April 16). Decreto por el que se crea el Instituto de los Mexicanos en el Exterior, con el carácter de órgano administrativo desconcentrado de la Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores. https://www.gob.mx/ime/documentos/decreto-por-el-que-se-crea-el-ime
González Gutiérrez, C. (1997). Decentralized Diplomacy: The Role of Consular Offices in Mexico´s Relations with its Diaspora. In Rodolfo O de la Garza and Jesús Velasco (eds.), Bridging the Border: Transforming Mexico-U.S. Relations, (pp. 49-67). Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
González Gutiérrez, C. (2006). Introduccion: El papel de los gobiernos. In Carlos Gónzalez Gutiérrez (coor.), Relaciones Estado-diáspora: La perspectiva de América Latina y el Caribe. Tomo II, (pp. 13-42). Ciudad de México. Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores.
González Gutiérrez, C. (2009). The Institute of Mexicans Abroad: An Effort to Empower the Diaspora. In Dovelyn Rannverg Agunias (ed.), Closing the Distance: How Governments Strengthen ties with their Diasporas, (pp. 87-98). Washington, DC. Migration Policy Institute. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/closing-distance-how-governments-strengthen-ties-their-diasporas
Laglagaron, L. (2010). Protection through Integration: The Mexican Government's Efforts to Aid Migrants in the United States. Migration Policy Institute. https://www.migrationpolicy.org/sites/default/files/publications/IME_FINAL.pdf
Márquez Lartigue, R. (2023). Engaging migrants in the Mexico-US diplomatic relationship: The Institute of Mexicans Abroad. Working paper presented in the ISA 2023 convention. Unpublished.
Mendoza Sánchez, J. C., & Cespedes Cantú, A. (2021). Innovating through Engagement: Mexico’s Model to Support Its Diaspora. In L. Kennedy (ed), Routledge International Handbook of Diaspora Diplomacy (Kindle Edition). Routledge.
Terrazas, A. and Papademetriou, D. G. (2010). Reflexiones sobre el compromiso de México con Estados Unidos en materia de migración con énfasis en los programas para la comunidad de mexicanos en el exterior. In Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Mexicanos en el Exterior: Trayectorias y Perspectivas (1990-2010), (pp. 107-139). Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, Instituto Matías Romero.
DISCLAIMER: All views expressed on this blog are that of the author and do not represent the opinions of any other authority, agency, organization, employer or company.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.