Saturday, November 01, 2014

Reaching Out: On a Mission in Mission Mexico

(A quick note before I start: my husband truly bristles to hear me, or anyone, use the phrase "reaching out" when the speaker really means that they are going to talk to, write to or in any other way CONTACT another person.  So just to tease him, I titled this posting as I did.)

I am a Consular Officer by cone, but my actual job is that of a Foreign Service Officer Generalist, which means we're all supposed to be able to wear any/many hats when needed.  Lately I've been wearing the Public Diplomacy hat as part of the Immigrant Visa Mexico Outreach team.  The team consists of three officers and two local staff members who divide into teams of two with the goal of visiting each consulate and the embassy in Mission Mexico.  There are ten in total, so this means lots of travelling for our little crew. 

All the immigrant visas (IV) for Mexico are processed in Ciudad Juarez.  The Embassy in Mexico City used to process a small slice of the IV pie, but as of very recently that is all being transferred to Juarez to be housed under one roof.  The other consulates and the Embassy, in terms of visas, process only non-immigrant (NIV) visas (for tourism, students, temporary workers etc...).  Therefore someone smart figured out that it would be great if people trained in the processing of IVs would familiarize the NIV staff throughout the country on the topic of IV and how to better respond to people who have immigrant visa-related questions.  Also, there are thousands of potential petitioners and applicants for immigrant visas here in Mexico, and so much misunderstanding about the complex process, therefore community outreach is more than just a good idea, it's really a necessity. 

So that's how I found myself on a couch next to the beautiful, young morning talk show hostess in her shorty-short dress, stilettos and long, Sofia Vegara hair in Merida, Mexico last week.  And on air with Senor Suave the mustachioed veteran radio and TV host in Tijuana last month. And in front of an indigenous community group serving the Mayan population of the Yucatan. And typing as fast as we could to answer the questions pouring in via a couple of live Facebook chats.  

It's all in the name of reaching out, errrr, contacting people who want to learn about the immigrant visa process, the process in which people can enter the US lawfully and apply to become Legal Permanent Residents.  As Mexico (namely Juarez) processes approximately 19-20% of the world's immigrant visas, there is a big crowd of people who want to learn more about the topic.  

With less than three months to go before we leave post, I feel I'm finally becoming more fluent in the topic and am ready to take on new challenges. Trust me, being on-camera live was a VERY new challenge. I have new-found appreciation for how talk show or radio hosts can really make a guest feel comfortable (or the opposite), how they can make smooth transitions between questions and responses on topics they previously knew nothing about (from "how to make the best banana bread!" yesterday to "how to petition for your wife and kids to come to the US!" today) and can help their guests deliver the desired message. We got lucky with some very good hosts, which helps build confidence poco a poco.

I think we did a decent job; at least there were no questions about US involvement in Middle East conflicts (or any similar nightmare) like we were trained to handle during the "Composure Under Fire" portion of A-100. I know I made grammatical errors in my Spanish (oh, yeah, did I mention this was all in Spanish? Just adds to the fun, right?) and I wished I could have rephrased quite a few answers given a Groundhog Day opportunity to do it over again, but no international incidents were caused and perhaps we even helped a few folks. 

Live! Coming to another Mexican border city near you - your immigrant visa outreach crew!


  1. So, it sounds like, just about the time you get comfortable in a position, where you feel you can be really effective, they transfer you to a new duty station? Government efficency?

  2. Hahaha, but we're here for the adventure, so staying only two or three years will let us see as many posts as possible before reaching the government-mandated retirement age!