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.
A couple of weeks ago, Mexico´s consular network in the United States, together with federal and state labor authorities, unions, community associations, and seven other consulates, successfully organized the 13th edition of the Labor Rights Week (LRW).
The LRW “is a joint initiative between the governments of the US and Mexico that seeks to increase awareness in Mexican and Latino communities about the rights of workers and the resources available to them.” As the reader will learn, it started in 2009.
In 2021, the 50 Mexican consulates and 560 partners held 680 events with 520,000 persons and collaborated with the consulates of Colombia, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Peru.
Besides, the Embassy of Mexico in Washington renewed national cooperation agreements with the Wage and Hour Division (WHS), the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), and the National Labor Relations Board (NLRB). The Mexican consulates also updated 58 local collaboration agreements.
The significant results of the LRW amid the Covid-19 pandemic confirm that it is an example of an accomplished public-consular diplomacy initiative executed by Mexico and its network of allies in the United States. This effort adds to the successful public-consular diplomatic effort by Mexico is its Consular ID card program.
However, the consular protection of Mexican workers in the United States has been a priority of the consular network since the 19th century. In the third decade of the 21st century, it continues to be the focus of Mexico´s public-consular diplomacy.
In the case of consular assistance in incidents of labor rights violation, Mexico developed the LRW, a successful model of collaboration where the host country authorities cooperate with the consular network to promote the rights available to all workers regardless of their immigration status.
How this initiative started?
The origins of Labor Rights Week
After the failure to reach an immigration agreement between Mexico and the U.S., also known as “the whole enchilada”, partly due to the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, both governments searched for opportunities for greater collaboration in new areas. One such field was labor rights.
An alternative reason for the greater attention to labor issues by the government of Mexico is proposed by Xóchitl Bada and Shannon Gleeson. They state that it was the pressure from Mexican community groups to have a proactive role in labor rights cases that resulted in greater collaboration with U.S. authorities.
As a result, in 2004, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico (SRE) and the Secretary of Labor issued a joint declaration followed by signing letters of intent with WHS and OSHA. The statement was renewed in 2010 and 2014.
After a few years of collaborating, in 2009, the SRE launched the first LRW, using the Binational Health Week as inspiration. In its first edition, fifteen consulates and 255 allies organized 199 events, with 18,788 persons. In total, 829 consular labor cases were registered.
Since then, Mexico´s consulates across the U.S. have entered into more than 400 agreements with regional offices of labor agencies, including OSHA, WHD, EEOC, and others (see table 1).
The evolution of the LRW
As with other consular assistance programs, after the successful first experience, all Mexican consulates were involved in organizing events around the LWR.
During the week around Labor Day in the U.S., which is celebrated on the first Monday of September, Consulates and allies organize a wide variety of activities, from training at the consulate offices and workplaces such as canning factories and vegetable fields to individual consultations with labor lawyers, labor rights organizations, and unions.
As the collaboration expanded, the Embassy of Mexico in Washington signed agreements with the NLRB in 2013, the EEOC in 2014, and the Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel for Immigration-Related Unfair Employment Practices (OSC) in 2016. In many instances, the consular network replicated these deals with the agencies' regional offices, especially with the EEOC.
As part of this initiative, the SRE signed an agreement with the United Farm Workers in November 2019, the first of its type with a labor organization in the United States.
The Results of the LRW
Organizing a week of events focusing on labor rights has been very successful. More than 1.7 million persons have attended an event since 2009, including half a million this year alone, as the reader can see in table 1, at the bottom of the post.
Regardless of the political discourse, continuity of the effort has been crucial, creating trust among the consulates and labor authorities with workers, unions, and labor rights organizations.
Besides, an additional advantage is that new activities are proposed by consulates and partners every year, expanding and deepening the cooperation. For example, after a few years of the LRW, some consulates, with the help of their allies, offered workshops at different workplaces, including factories, restaurants, construction sites, and agricultural fields. They found out, though practice, that it was a lot easier to reach out to workers at their locations rather than asking them to go to a consulate or a church.
The LRW has been identified as an example of “practical joint initiatives” to protect the labor rights of low-skilled immigrant workers. Mexico promoted the LRW in the 2nd Global Consular Forum meeting held in Mexico in 2015, and some scholars have noted the success and some of its deficiencies.
It is well known that current public diplomacy strategies search to establish a long-term partnership between the receiving and the sending state. Therefore, the institutionalization of relationships with partners, through signing collaboration agreements and other forms, has demonstrated its usefulness in weathering changes of leaders and priorities of the different governments. It also has facilitated the continuity of the LRW, which has been vital to building lasting and successful relationships with allies and the workers themselves.
Nina Græger y Halvard Leira state that “the degree of [consular] care provided for citizens abroad is thus tied not only to political system, but also to the state capacity, the perceived necessity for domestic legitimacy and responsiveness of foreign host governments.” In the case of the LRW, the interest of the Department of Labor and other authorities in promoting labor rights in the immigrant community, through collaboration with the Mexican consular network, has been essential in its success. One of the most important results is turning the consulate into a trusted ally of local organizations and bridging them and the federal and state agencies.
In a country such as the US that offers fewer protections for workers and has multiple labor regulations and authorities, the LRW is an excellent public-consular diplomacy effort with a focus on some of the most vulnerable workers. It is also a perfect example of the collaboration of the governments of the sending and receiving states with civil society organizations.
 Okano-Heijmans, Maaike and Price, Caspar, “Providing consular services to low-skilled migrant workers: partnerships that care”, Global Affairs, Vol. 5 No. 4-5, 2019, p. 436.
 Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores, “13th labor rights week comes to a close in Mexico´s US consulates”, Press Bulletin, September 6, 2021
 Gómez Arnau, Remedios, México y la protección de sus nacionales en Estados Unidos, Centro de Investigaciones sobre Estados Unidos de América, 1990, p. 127.
 Bada, Xóchitl, and Gleeson, Shannon. “A New Approach to Migrant Labor Rights Enforcement”, Labor Studies Journal Vol. 40 No. 1, 2015, pp. 42-44.
 Bureau of International Labor Affairs, Joint Ministerial Declaration on Migrant Workers Signed by US Secretary of Labor, Mexican Secretary of Labor and Social Welfare, April 3, 2014.
 SRE, Derechos Laborales de Personas Mexicanas en el Extranjero: Semana de Derechos Laborales en Estados Unidos, Datos Abiertos.
 Okano-Heijmans, Maaike and Price, Caspar, “Providing consular services to low-skilled migrant workers: partnerships that care”, Global Affairs, Vol. 5 No. 4-5, 2019, p. 436.
 See, for example Bada, Xóchitl, and Gleeson, Shannon. “A New Approach to Migrant Labor Rights Enforcement”, Labor Studies Journal, Vol. 40 No. 1, 2015, 32-53
 Græger, Nina, and Leira, Halvard, “Introduction: The Duty of Care in International Relations” in The Duty of Care in International Relations: Protecting citizens beyond the border, eds. Nina Græger, and Halvard Leira, 2019, p. 3.
 Bada, Xóchitl, and Gleeson, Shannon, 2015, p. 45.
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.
Table 1. Summary of results of the Labor Rights Week 2009-2021
Note: Participant agencies and other consulates totals could participate in different editions but are counted separately. Sources: 2009-2020 SRE, Derechos Laborales de Personas Mexicanas en el Extranjero: Semana de Derechos Laborales en Estados Unidos, Datos Abiertos, and 2021 SRE, “13th labor rights week comes to a close in Mexico´s US consulates”, Press Bulletin, September 6, 2021.
Rodrigo Márquez Lartigue
Diplomat interested in the development of Consular and Public Diplomacies.