EL PASO, Texas — The last time Mauricio Ibarra Ponce de Leon came to El Paso it was to promote binational cooperation at an economic forum in UTEP.
This month he returned as the new consul general of Mexico in El Paso, and while trade remains a priority, he says the most important part of his job will be protecting Mexican immigrants.
“We will strengthen support services, beginning with access to legal services, we have a number of lawyers for referrals. We will also have immigration information workshops and preventive campaigns on how to avoid situations that might affect them,” he said.
Ibarra, a 31-year veteran of Mexico’s foreign service took over a post vacant since December when his predecessor Marcos Bucio Mujica was reassigned to a national adult literacy program in Mexico City.
Ibarra was formerly Mexico’s consul general in Albuquerque and most recently director of North American Affairs for the Foreign Ministry.
He comes to the border right after president Trump sent a jolt through the border business community with the threat of tariffs on all Mexican imports, which he called off on June 7 after Mexico agreed to toughen immigration enforcement. He also comes amid threats from the White House of large-scale deportations, which could take place in two weeks if Congress doesn’t close alleged loopholes in asylum law.
The new consul didn’t directly address political issues but reaffirmed his government’s commitment to protecting countrymen in trouble abroad.
“We shouldn’t be rash in anticipation of what might happen, but we are monitoring the situation to make sure we are ready to meet whatever needs might arise in our community. We will work with our allies in the community so we can multiply efforts so that our community can get the best advice,” he said.
The consulate’s immigration workshops typically feature a lecture from an immigration attorney and referrals to lawyers vetted by the institution. The consulate doesn’t pay for the lawyers, but these lawyers typically offer the first consultation free of charge.
Other resources include a booklet on what Mexican citizens can do if they are stopped on the street by authorities in El Paso. The booklet advises immigrants to keep calm, identify themselves and, if applicable, tell the officer that they don’t speak English. They also have the right to remain silent and request to contact a lawyer or a representative from their consulate.
Emphasis on outreach
The consulate recently has increased its presence on social media, posting daily updates on upcoming workshops and events, and passing along information and telephone numbers for the Protection Department and other services.
Ibarra said the social media presence is part of a broader effort to communicate with the Mexican community in the region, particularly those who don’t live in El Paso.
“Our obligation is to take services even to remote areas. We’ll be more active on social media, radio, television, print and all available alternatives to reach our community in far away places,” he said. “We will also have mobile consulates in which we take all of our services to other cities. We have three left, in Deming on Aug. 24, in Roswell Oct. 19-20, and Hobbs on Nov. 16-17.”
Ibarra said he would promote trade and investment in Mexico, which includes advocating for passage of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the alternative to NAFTA (the North American Free Trade Agreement), that the three countries are pursuing.
And he added he would promote cultural events and a positive image of Mexico abroad.
“We share a common history, values and culture. Culture is a good way to present the best of both sides of the border,” Ibarra said. “It’s also important to recognize the contributions of Mexicans to this community. … They are entrepreneurs and workers who come here to make both societies better.”