Love in Mexico

Navigating family and place


Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico
December 31
This blog documents the encounters and events that taught me about Mexico, and about the culture of family, Mexico's and my own. .............................................… Find more of my work at ........................................... Thanks for reading.


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JANUARY 26, 2011 10:38AM

Baby Steps Down the Path to Citizenship (Part I of ??!)

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My husband and I—both born and raised U.S. citizens—have lived in Central and South America in the past, and on both sides of the border, in New and Old Mexico; so we have heard a lot of immigration stories.

We have even had minor immigration run-ins of our own. Once, I got in trouble for accidentally being in El Salvador illegally. And, for a while, it looked as though we would have to overstay our Mexican visas. Another time, and to our great embarrassment, we hired a sort of coyote to “facilitate” entering Honduras. But we have never really been constrained by borders. Not until now.

Now, the U.S. State Department is upgrading its system for registering U.S. citizens born abroad. For the indefinite future, they are not accepting application appointments. Since we’re not about to leave our one-month-old baby behind in an emergency, we find ourselves in a position that our blue U.S. passports usually protect us from: we may not enter our own country, at least not if we intend to bring our newborn baby home with us.

“If you have an emergency or live and death situation,” reads the email we received last week from the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara (they would not answer our question over the phone). “Please send us an e-mail with your request...”

Yes. In a “life and death” situation, we are supposed to sit down at a computer, type out an email, and wait for a reply.


Our second son was born right before Christmas in Morelia, Mexico, where my husband is a Fulbright scholar. In the days after his birth, our son had no name or nationality. Not on paper, anyway. He was just our baby. Sweet and warm and wondrous.

Then the holidays ended and public offices reopened and we took our dossier of identification (marriage license, our nonimmigrant resident cards, passports, etc.), two friends to serve as witnesses, and the baby himself to the Civil Registry to apply for a Mexican birth certificate.

It was the sort of project that takes all day in Mexico, so although we knew Ana and Eric* only vaguely when we arrived, we had plenty of time to fill in the gaps. Sitting on a narrow bench along one wall of the Registry while we waited to see the judge, we chatted about births with language barriers and about the logistics of our cross-border families.

Eric grew up in Chicago, a fact that is pretty obvious when he speaks English. His family still lives there. But he isn’t a U.S. citizen. Ana is Mexican too, but their four-year-old daughter is American. It’s a pretty tame story—they were in the U.S. legally, they are hoping to return legally. Eric likes dogs and wants to open a kennel. Ana would like to have more children but knows that they’ll never return to the U.S. and Eric’s family, even to visit, if they have children in Mexico. For now, they are waiting like millions of others, in immigrant limbo.

For the first time, filing for a foreign birth certificate, I felt that I could relate—on a minute scale—with stories like Ana’s and Eric’s. I was, after all, the American parent of a Mexican child. Deep down, however, I felt more than a little entitlement: my child was also an American, all I had to do was file the papers. While I felt great sympathy for those who didn’t have my birthrights, I felt invincible to the frustrations and heartbreaks of other families split across borders. I knew immigrant stories, but I also knew stories about U.S. embassies going to extraordinary lengths to fish U.S. citizens out of trouble. I had been careful never to need such fishing-out myself, but in all the years I had lived in other countries, I always trusted that an embassy had my back.

Before we moved to Mexico pregnant, my husband applied his much-lauded research skills to the question of having a child in another country. It didn’t appear to be a complicated process. We would apply in person with a birth certificate, proof of parental citizenship and residency in the U.S., and evidence of the pregnancy (ultrasounds and so forth). With this, we would be issued a Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or a CRBA, which our son would use as proof of citizenship, along with the passport we would apply for simultaneously.

The only hitch we foresaw was breaking it to our son one day that he could never be president.

That is, until the evening after our visit to the Civil Registry when we tried to schedule our appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Guadalajara. A webpage led to a phone that led back to the webpage. An email to the Consulate revealed that their systems were being upgraded and CRBA appointments would not be accepted until January 18. A little Googling fleshed this out: the new CRBA would only be printed by two passport agencies in the U.S. and would include “a variety of state-of-the-art security features to help prevent fraud and identity theft.” In the meantime, little citizens born abroad would have to suck their thumbs and wait.

On January 18th, we tried again without luck. A few months earlier, we had sat for hours while Mexican immigration adapted to its own new-and-improved visa system. Our quest for a CRBA was already beginning to feel uncannily like a high-tech version of a waiting room in Mexico.

On January 19th, my husband persevered until he got to talk to a human. When he asked about scheduling an appointment, the citizens’ services representative blandly hoped they would begin scheduling again “sometime next month.”

And, just so we knew, what were we supposed to do in the case of an emergency?

It was my question. I like to have contingency plans, and I have a vivid imagination for conjuring situations that might require them.

But citizens’ services wasn’t going to take a name or send us a fact sheet or even answer the question. My husband was instructed to submit his query to an email address.

This left us to imagine ridiculous options for ourselves. Would we smuggle him in our suitcase? Hire a coyote?  Leave him in Morelia with his 14-year-old babysitter?  Was it lawful to even try to take him—an unrecognized U.S. citizen—with us?  Or would we face charges for human trafficking?

The answer to his email, when it came, was yet another email address, to be used in a life-or-death situation.

Now, exiled while the U.S. ramps up its capacity to keep people out of the country with a variety of state-of-the-art security features, we wait.

As we languish in immigrant limbo for real, I’ve continued to draft contingency plans. And this has led me to shift my perspective and see that we need to approach our problem from this side of the border. If the U.S. can’t help us, there is always Mexico.

With a Mexican birth certificate, we can apply for a Mexican passport. With a passport, we can join Ana and Eric and so many other families in the long line for a visa to enter the U.S.

In the process, I might well get more of an immigrant experience than I ever bargained for. After all, as my husband and I can’t help joking, what are the odds of scoring a visa for an unemployed Mexican male who might just want to stay in the U.S. indefinitely?




*Names have been changed.

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I am so sorry and so frustrated for you and your family - and annoyed beyond words that once again immigrants are treated like crap. I've had awful experiences of my own here in France, and I'm very concerned about the day I have children. I don't know if this will comfort you, but as you pointed out, many consulates/embassies will do everything they can (and usually succeed) when it comes to getting one of their citizens out of a dangerous situation. I recently personally witnessed this with a French friend in crisis abroad. I think your contingency plan for now could be that if there's an emergency before your son has his papers, you could call any and every US embassy/consulate out there till you reach someone, then explain your situation and demand papers for him or whatever else is needed. This may take a lot of time and effort but at least it's something. In the longer term, I think you're right to try things on the Mexican side, too. Rated, with sympathy and hope.
@Alysa--that's what I keep telling people, that I'm not worried--and I'm really not: in a pinch, I'll pull every string I've got. (My husband has already written our congressman.) Sometimes "privilege" is the same as "squeaky wheel." But a little part me wonders if that approach is a thing of the past...?
What a frustrating situation! I can certainly sympathize. I was once briefly married to a Nicaraguan man, a man who I'd married pretty much solely because I had to return to the States and I wanted him to be able to come with me. Even as my husband, the entry process was going to take >1 year and cost nearly $1500, and that was doing all the (overly complicated) paperwork myself! Yet at least he could actually enter then (theoretically - I didn't stay married to him long enough to find out). Otherwise his chance of getting a work visa, through a process aptly named a 'lottery', was about the same odds as winning the Powerball, and could take 10+ years.

Naively, I had assumed that babies born to US citizens, regardless of location, were automatically presumed US citizens and given US passports. I'm sorry to be wrong. Best of luck; I hope you don't have to fall back on Plan B.
@Nola-- technically, you're right, he's a U.S. citizen at birth. Although having parents who are U.S. citizens doesn't guarantee that (we have to demonstrate sufficient residency in the U.S. as well, for example). But without documents or any acknowledgment of his existence by immigration officialdom, that detail doesn't matter much.
A Fulbright scholar and you Americans find yourself stuck in a 3rd world country where your son now has residency? Well enjoy Mexico, I'm sure you will. Good luck! Because that's what all smart people want to do: move to a 3rd world country rife with crime and drug cartels running everything.
Wait, wasn't Mitt Romney's father born in Mexico where his parents were Mormon missionaries?

Didn't he seek the presidential nomination (and it was determined by the U.S. Supreme that "natural born" does not have to mean "native born")?

In other words, I'm pretty sure that your son is allowed to be president when he grows up;).

Best of luck to you.
I can't imagine how frustrating this must be for you. I don't have kids but am looking into a change of residency to a S. American country. I'm also a writer and can live anywhere but am always discouraged by how badly immigrants are treated in this country. Ironic how so many Latin American countries seem to welcome us with open arms yet we treat everyone badly who comes from Latin America, including our own citizens.

I'm almost never on OS these days and have deleted every post I could from this site (long story) but I would love to hear more from you and about how you and your family are surviving. Lots of love to you all.
US Code Title 8, Chapter 12, Subchapter 11, Part I, § 1401. Nationals and citizens of United States at birth
(c) a person born outside of the United States and its outlying possessions of parents both of whom are citizens of the United States and one of whom has had a residence in the United States or one of its outlying possessions, prior to the birth of such person;
@Surazeus--but this won't get him on an airplane back to the U.S. Undocumented is undocumented, whether or not you have a right to citizenship.
A US citizen born abroad: Good enough for John McCain to run for Prez. And frankly as a long time resident of Mexico, I'm pretty damn offended by Deborah Young's flip comment.
Immigration rules are so often causes for despair. Your case ought to be simple. It used to be simple. I suspect that registering him as mexican will bring about greater complications. And even as a foreign born national, he'll have to be careful that in turn, he doesn't have kids born outside the U.S. I forget the details now, but I remember reading something about how bringing in a foreign born kid only worked for one generation. Worth checking up on.
I'm sorry you are having problems. However I don't feel sorry for you. Your husband is a Fulbright Scholar. That means you have education and some financial ability. What you seem to lack is common sense.

Why would you have a child in a 3rd world country? Forget the paperwork problems that you wouldn't have if you had come back to this side of the line long enough to have him. All these problems gone.

Then you have to look at the medical care here. Yes if things go right it will be fine down there. Nobody goes into a delivery and say I think I'll have complications so I need a c-section, but bad things happen to good people. Why did you want to risk it?

I'm glad he is alright. I'm also sure that after day or weeks of dealing with this, and lots of money, you will get him the papers he needed. So don't you think that in hindsight this wasn't such a bright idea?
The constitution states that the president has to be a "natural born" American, not a native-born. It's never been clarified what "natural born" means. Does it mean a citizen born on American soil? Or does it mean a person who acquired American citizenship at birth, as your Mexican born child did? The meaning has never been legally clarified.

Birth in Panama was not seen as a problem for McCain's presidential bid.

I'd write letters to my congressman and hometown papers. The US has a duty to give your son a passport. My son was born abroad and he had no eligibility for citizenship in the country of his birth, nor the right to live there beyond a reasonable time in which to get all the paperwork done.

Look up what your son's rights are as an American citizen under Mexican law. My bet is, if he doesn't get automatic Mexican citizenship, his rights to live in Mexico without a visa are quite limited.

I also bet if you drive to the border, they'll let him in. (I wouldn't bet on an airline letting him on a plane).
I have studied this question extensively and written about it on my Alan Milner blog here on OS.

Here is the solution to your immediate dilemma.

Contact an attorney in the United States. Any state will do, but it is probably a good idea to do this in a border state. You will see why in a moment.

Have that attorney file a writ of Habeas Corpus naming the US Customs Service as the respondent and instructing USCS to deliver your child to the court.

Get the Mexican doctor who delivered your child to sign a notarized witness statement stipulating to the time, place and circumstances of your child's birth.

Drive - do NOT fly - to a border crossing into the state from which you obtained the writ of Habeas Corpus.

You may have a problem with the Mexican authorities, but the affidavit from the Doctor, compounded by a Mexican birth certificate, will probably get you passage through the Mexican border control .

Once you reach the American side, have your attorney meet you at the border cross with the writ in hand.

This will get you into the country with your child.

Once you are on American soil, with your child's citizenship in doubt, he automatically comes under the jurisdiction of the Border Patrol, a constabulary agency of the United States Government. As such, they may not refuse to honor a writ of habeas corpus, which is one of the most powerful warrants in our legal system.

If Customs or the Border Patrol attempts to refuse your entry into the United States, they must keep you incarcerated on American soil, at which point your attorney can apply to the same judge who issued the writ of Habeas Corpus. It might be a good idea to apply to a federal court for the writ, in which case the U.S. Marshall's Service would then be empowered to take your child from the custody of Customs or Border Patrol officers.

Keep us informed.
Very best of luck, loveinmexico, and please do keep us informed. And congratulations to you for travelling and living abroad - that's one of the things very intelligent people do.
@Alan Milner--Now THAT was exactly what I was trying to find out. THANK YOU. I know that eventually the State Dept. will come through, but it is a great relief to know what we can do in the meantime.
A belated congratulations on the birth of your son. Also, my best wishes for success in your tilt with the U.S. bureaucracy, admittedly freighted with much more importance than my own recent tilt with the Mexican one.
Some of you obviously have not been to Mexico. Mexico is not considered 3rd world--there aren't mass famines (in fact, they have a growing childhood obesity problem that rivals our own), all but the poorest have electricity and running water in their homes, Wal-Mart is one of the largest employers.

Yes, they have modern hospitals there. Yes, said hospitals do C-sections when needed. Yes, in the cities you can get the same level of care that you would find in the United States. (In towns in the middle of nowhere, that's a different story--but there are parts of the U.S. too where you have to drive for hours and hours to get to a decent hospital.)

She said her son was born in Morelia. Morelia is a city of 700,000 people and home to twelve universities and an international airport. She's not exactly giving birth in a grass hut here.
Well put, Leandra.

I had excellent medical care: one of the best OBs (also a surgeon) in the city. In the U.S., grad student insurance usually means having docs who are, well, grad students themselves. (For TMI, read my birth story post, La Venganza Baby, or, for more on some of my medical experiences in Mex, check out 16,000 Reasons Not To Have My Baby in the US.)
According to an article published in the newspaper, La Jornada Michoacán, two years ago Morelia had one of the highest crime rates in the country.…
La Voz de MIchoacán reports on a study over two years 2007-2008 that shows over 20,000 crimes in that period including over 500 homicides.…
Thank you so much for your story. I ran across it as I was google searching "American having baby in Mexico." See I am an American Citizen, my boy friend is a Mexican Citizen, we have been together almost 5 years. We are now 5 months pregnant, last month his work place was visited by immigration. Long story short it looks like he will be back in Guadalajara in about a month. I cant imagine having this baby without him by my side. So I have been researching having the baby in Guadalajara. I found a good midwife, and now my next concern in making sure that the baby WILL be an American citizen. Everything I research online seems like it is a piece of cake no problem OF COURSE THE BABY WOULD be American. I even spoke with one lawyer who said, "yes after I have the baby in Mexico, go to the US consulate, embassy and register the birth of a US citizen abroad. However then I read your story and I wonder if I could end up being in the same situation. I plan on keeping my residence here as I am not sure how long I will be in Mexico. I plan on staying from mid June (my 8th month) to January 2012. I also plan on having a round trip ticket. Anyways it sounds like you have been through a lot, have learned a lot, and have done numerous research on this subject. So I was wondering if you might be able to give me some good pointers, things to do and not to do. Any documents I could have prepared before I leave etc...