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Consular and Public Diplomacies
Consular and Public Diplomacies
As I mentioned in my previous post, “Focus on Women: Specialized Consular Assistance in the United States”, today I am writing about another example of a successful public-consular diplomacy effort implemented by Mexico in the United States: The development of specialized consular care protocols.
This initiative resulted in the publication of three protocols that provide detailed information to consular officials to offer specialized consular assistance to victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence, as well as migrant unaccompanied children and teens. These three issues usually have a more significant impact on women than men, so they focus on them.
The effort is quite interesting from different perspectives:
This post will cover the origins of specialized consular care and the three protocols created as part of this initiative.
2. Origins of specialized consular care
In the late part of the first decade of the new millennium, Mexico’s Congress assigned funding to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (SRE) to provide consular assistance to victims of mistreatment (maltrato) with particular emphasis on women, children, and senior citizens, and victims of human trafficking.[ii]
As part of the effort, the Department of Consular Assistance to Mexicans Abroad (DGPME, in Spanish) included in its regulations two new subprograms: Gender equality and Consular assistance to Mexican victims of human trafficking in 2012.[iii]
The congressional funding helped consulates to support consular cases and the establishment of new partnerships. All these activities promoted a better understanding of these vulnerable groups’ particularities and the need to have better tools to assist them, including training of consular officials and the community at large. Therefore, there was a need to work on new instruments to provide specialized assistance to vulnerable groups.
Besides, Mexico’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs established a new consular care model using the “pro-persona” principle as a result of the Human Rights Constitutional amendment of 2011.[iv]
Since then, Consulates started cooperation pilot projects with different stakeholders, including the Ventanilla de Atención Integral para la Mujer or the “Initiative for the Comprehensive Care of Women” (VAIM) in Kansas City Missouri, in 2015. See post here.
Meanwhile, in Mexico, the DGPME began working on the creation of a protocol to attend unaccompanied children and adolescents (UCA) detained at the border by U.S. immigration officials.
3. Protocol for the consular care of unaccompanied migrant children and adolescents
In 2014, the DGPME agreed with UNICEF Mexico´s office to develop a consular assistance protocol focusing on unaccompanied children and adolescents. This happened as the number of the detention of Central American unaccompanied minors soared in the Mexico-U.S. border due to a non-repatriation policy of non-Mexican UCA implemented by the Department of Homeland Security.
The protocol was a milestone in consular care, as it radically changed the way consular officials approached and interviewed Mexican unaccompanied children and adolescents. It was very revealing that the protocol investigators identify the consular interview as a critical moment for the children.[v]
The Minister of Foreign Affairs announced the Protocol in May 2015, together with the President of the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and UNICEF’s Chief of Child Protection.[vi]
As part of its implementation, the Ministry undertook the broadest training program ever conducted. All personnel of the department of protection of 27 consulates participated in one of the six seminars that took place in three cities in the U.S.[vii] In total, 200 consular officials participated in this effort.[viii]
The training included children and adolescents’ psychology, so consular officials were better prepared to obtain as much information as possible in a friendly, non-threatening way. This, in turn, was very useful for their future family reunification, either in Mexico or the U.S.
“The Protocol has been structured based on the “inquire by informing” technique, which looks at building trust between the interviewer and the interviewed children and adolescents, so as not to depersonalize them. The Toolbox takes the same approach and is an instrument to apply the Protocol.”[ix] Thus, the Protocol’s toolkit (Caja de Herramientas) includes different items that assist the consul in interacting with UCA, such as playing cards with various images, colored pencils, and some toys.
Because the idea behind the protocol’s development was also to share it with other countries, an effort was made to translate it into English. For example, as part of the Regional Conference on Migration, Mexico shared the Protocol and its implementation experience.[x]
The launching of the protocol coincided with the negotiation of the renewal of the Mexico-U.S. Local Repatriation Agreements; therefore, there was an opportunity to agree with the DHS agencies on the facilitation of implementation of the protocol at the border.[xi]
An essential part of the protocol development, several specialized organizations reviewed it, so it was as comprehensive as possible.[xii] It was an innovative approach as it was the first time it was done.
Besides the initial training, UNICEF and the SRE agreed to do a “Train the trainer” program, so new consular officials were instructed as needed. Together with the Instituto Matías Romero (Mexico´s diplomatic academy), UNICEF created an online course about the Protocol to expand training capabilities further.[xiii] Nowadays, it is usually offered twice a year.
In 2015, “there were about 13,000 cases of consular protection for migrant children and the protocol and its innovative electronic registration platform helped improve monitoring and coordination with Mexican authorities such as the National Migration Institute and the National DIF.”[xiv]
4. Protocol for the Consular Care of Victims of Gender-Based Violence
While the first protocol was being rollout, the SRE started to work on the second specialized consular care protocol focused on victims of gender-based violence.[xv]
In November 2015, the Minister signed an agreement with Mexico’s UN Women Office to develop the Protocol for the Consular Care of Victims of Gender-Based Violence. The first draft was presented in July 2016.[xvi]
The protocol was finished in 2016 and published in 2017. The training was provided to officials in charge of the consular assistance departments in consulates across the U.S.
As in the previous protocol, a group of specialized organizations reviewed the protocol before its publication.[xvii]
The VAIM incorporated the Protocol’s practices and recommendations into the assistance to women, or men, who suffered from domestic violence to provide better consular care and offer all the consulate’s programs and initiative to take care of their needs.
The protocol helped consular officials identify local allies that could provide services to the victims, including housing, clothing, and assistance to find a job.
5. Protocol for the Consular Care of Mexican Victims of Human Trafficking Abroad
After overcoming some obstacles, in 2018, the SRE was finally able to create its third specialized protocol, which focused on Mexican victims of human trafficking abroad.
On March 6, 2018, the Undersecretary for North America and the Director of the International Organization for Migration Mexico’s Office signed an agreement to develop this protocol jointly.[xviii]
The International Organization for Migration was a perfect partner for its creation. Its Mexico office previously worked in the elaboration of at least two protocols regarding human trafficking victims. Besides, it was working on the subject in the framework of the Regional Conference on Migration.
One difference from the two previous protocols was that as part of the Mexico-U.S. collaboration, the Embassy of the United States in Mexico partially funded the protocol’s development.[xix] It is an example of working together to tackle a crime that is not limited by borders and where migrants are particularly vulnerable.
As in the previous two protocols, several specialized organizations participated in the review process.[xx] The SRE officially launched the protocol on November 22, 2018.[xxi]
Following the best practice of elaborating an online course to have a permanent training tool for new consular officials, in 2019, the DGPME and the Instituto Matías Romero put together a virtual module about the subject. It is now offered regularly.
Human trafficking, like gender-based violence, are topics that are a significant concern for law enforcement offices; therefore, they were gateways for collaboration, sometimes with authorities that did not like or care about migrants. Consulates participated in different ways, like becoming members of local task forces, establishing strategic alliances, and even signing MOUs.[xxii]
A great example of the collaboration that resulted from the greater emphasis on assisting human trafficking victims is the one developed with Polaris. This organization manages the national human trafficking hotline in the U.S. It has trained consular officials for several years now. Also, the consulates have participated in some Polaris outreach activities.[xxiii] Most importantly, they work together when they identify a Mexican victim of human trafficking.
In recognition of the assistance provided to Mexicans in the U.S., the Embassy of Mexico in Washington bestowed Polaris the Ohtli Award in September 2020.
The combination of better knowledge about the needs of the Mexican migrants in the U.S. and the new focus on the person propelled the consular network to provide specialized consular care to vulnerable groups. To achieve this goal, the SRE enlisted three international partners' assistance to develop the protocols of consular care of UAC and victims of human trafficking and gender-based violence.
The development and implementation of the consular care protocols changed the mindset of consular officials. Besides, the Mexican consulates actively searched for and expanded partnerships to elevate the services provided to these vulnerable groups.
An important reason behind the collaboration with UN specialized organisms in elaborating the three protocols was their expertise and the opportunity to incorporate international standards, not only to the document but also to its implementation.
By focusing on issues that heavily affect migrant women, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is moving forward to gender equality in the consular services it provides to the Mexican community in the United States. And by doing these has significantly expanded the reach of its public-consular diplomacy.
[i] Okano-Heijmans, Maaike, “Change in Consular Assistance and the Emergence of Consular Diplomacy”, Netherlands Institute of International Relations ´Clingendael´, February 2010.
[ii] Márquez Lartigue, Rodrigo, “Focus on Women: Specialized Consular Assistance in the United States”, Consular and Public Diplomacies Blog, March 8, 2021.
[iii] In 2017, the program and subprograms were updated to its current name: Normas para la Ejecución del Programa de Protección Consular a Personas Mexicanas en el Exterior, SRE, May 2017.
[iv] Calva Ruiz, Vanessa, “Diplomacia Consular y acercamiento con socios estratégicos” of the book La Diplomacia Consular Mexicana en tiempos de Trump, 2018, p. 206.
[v] Gallo, Karla, “En el camino hacia la protección integral de la niñez migrante”, UNICEF México Blog, August 21, 2019.
[vi] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, 3er Informe de Labores de la SRE 2014-2015, 2015, p. 195.
[vii] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, 3er Informe de Labores de la SRE 2014-2015, 2015, p. 191.
[viii] Gallo, Karla, 2019.
[ix] SRE-UNICEF, Toolbox Pedagogical Basis, 2015, p. 3.
[x] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, “The Foreign Ministry enhances its consular diplomacy and protection for Mexicans abroad”, Press Bulletin, December 29, 2015.
[xi] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, 4o Informe de Labores de la SRE 2015-2016, 2016, p. 191
[xii] To see the list of organizations that participated in the review process, view page 64 of the Protocol.
[xiii] Gallo, Karla, 2019.
[xiv] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, “The Foreign Ministry enhances its consular diplomacy and protection for Mexicans abroad”, Press Bulletin, December 29, 2015.
[xv] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, “The Foreign Ministry enhances its consular diplomacy and protection for Mexicans abroad”, Press Bulletin, December 29, 2015.
[xvi] Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, 4o Informe de Labores de la SRE 2015-2016, 2016, p. 200.
[xvii] To see the list of organizations that participated in the review process, view page 96 of the Protocol.
[xviii] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “Desarrollaran la SRE y la Organizacion Internacional para las Migraciones un protocolo de atención a víctimas de trata”, Press Bulletin, March 6, 2018.
[xix] Protocolo p. 101
[xx] To see the list of organizations that participated in the review process, view page 101 of the Protocol.
[xxi] Ministry of Foreign Affairs, “La Secretaría de Relaciones Exteriores presenta el ´Protocolo de Atención Consular para Víctimas Mexicanas de Trata de Personas´”, Press Bulletin, November 22, 2018.
[xxii] See for example the collaboration mechanism described in the Protocol, pp. 87-88.
[xxiii] Polaris Organization, “Engaging Consulates in the Fight Against Sex Trafficking from Mexico”, Polaris Blog, May 22, 2017.
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.