EL PASO, Texas (Border Report) – Mexicans working in the United States send $40 billion a year to relatives in their homeland, which represents Mexico’s biggest source of income surpassing oil exports and tourism.

But many of these émigrés – some 11 million as of 2019 – often struggle to fit into their new society because of barriers such as immigration status, language, or lack of access to services.

That’s where consulates and an organization known as Institute for Mexicans Abroad (IME) try to fill the gap.

“Most of our migrants, 97 percent of them, are here in the United States. Our mission is to identify their needs, try to help meet them and maintain their ties” to the homeland, said IME Director Luis Gutierrez Reyes.

That relationship has expanded in recent years through distance-learning opportunities, workshops on financial literacy, immigration referrals and, in 2020, through COVID-19 vaccines.

“Health has been fundamental in this pandemic year. Our consulates and their (U.S.) allies procured vaccines for our migrants. Twenty-five of our consulates administered 200,000 vaccines, held health fairs and provided (referrals),” Gutierrez said during a visit to El Paso this week.

Mexican citizens wait for services at the Mexican Consulate in El Paso Texas. (Border Report photo)

Scholars say Mexico discouraged its citizens from migrating to the United States up until the 1940s, when World War II forced both countries to cooperate on an agreement for Mexican labor on American farms. Mass migration during economic crises in the 1970s, 80s and 90s made Mexico rethink its relationship with émigrés, scholars say.

In 2003, the Mexican government established IME as a link to numerous hometown associations that popped up in major U.S. cities like Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas. Those groups every couple of years elect members to IME’s citizens advisory committee.

The Mexican government’s relationship with these migrants has grown to include their right to vote from abroad in some elections in Mexico and the right for their children – and recently, their grandchildren – to hold dual nationality, own property and obtain social service if they ever move to Mexico.

Gutierrez said IME also supports efforts to bring about the legalization of undocumented immigrants in the United States.

IME Director Luis Gutierrez Reyes

“We support Mexican immigrants having access to a path to citizenship in the United States. Our embassy is holding talks with President Biden in support of this. We have held forums with ‘Dreamers,’ our consulates have provided (immigration) workshops, funds for their applications, scholarships and, a pledge to avail services in case they find themselves forced to return to Mexico. […] This includes health services, housing and (help finding) jobs if they are sent back,” he said.

Gutierrez said one of IME’s priorities is to help Mexicans living abroad empower themselves through education and financial know-how.

“Access to education, whether it’s distance learning or scholarships, is important for empowerment, to obtain better jobs and greater social mobility,” he said.

Gutierrez referenced the recent changes in Mexican law that allow not only the children of naturalized U.S. citizens to obtain Mexican birth certificates at consulates, but also their grandchildren, as a catalyst for future generations not to lose their ties to Mexico.

“In the United States we have 12 million first-generation Mexicans and 10 million (U.S.-born) Mexicans, in addition to 30 million (Americans)” who trace their roots to Mexico, he said.