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Why Must Visa Applicants Go to Mexico’s Most Dangerous City?

Andrea Nill: Has the U.S. purposefully chosen to put the only consulate in Mexico with the capacity to issue immigrant visas in the country’s most dangerous city?
ciudad juarez

Ciudad Juárez: Mexico's most Dangerous City - Only Place To Get A Visa

Almost anyone who wants to come to the U.S. — either as a visitor or a resident — has to physically visit a U.S. consulate in their country of origin to apply for a visa and undergo an interview by an Embassy officer. In Mexico, those applying for U.S residency can only do so at one location: the U.S. consulate in Ciudad Juárez — where over 3,000 people were killed in 2010 alone. Osha Gray Davidson has an interesting article up on Mother Jones in which he raises the question of whether the U.S. purposefully choose to put the only consulate in Mexico with the capacity to issue immigrant visas in the country’s most dangerous city:

On immigration-related websites like the Juarez, Mexico Discussion Forum and Immigrate2US, members often speculate as to why, of all of the cities in Mexico, they are forced to go to the Murder Capital. Some see it as a deliberate move to discourage people from applying. “This process is built to break one down,” wrote a member of the Juárez forum. “And most importantly, to instill fear.”[...]

“The websites say stay away, don’t travel there,” one woman complained to me. “But for families who are trying to do the right, legal, thing and go through the immigration process, they do not give us any other option.”

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According to the article, U.S. officials claim that the consulate’s location is completely unintentional. “The decision was made years ago…before the increased drug-related violence along the border area,” stated Nicole Thompson of the U.S. State Department. A consulate employee also pointed out that the consulate is located in the one of the city’s safer areas. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department warns its own citizens to “defer unnecessary travel” to Juárez because of the deadly violence.

The problem with that though is that anyone who isn’t coming from within that safe area has to travel through the toughest parts of Ciudad Juárez. While it’s true that “the war is between the cartels and gangs” as Thompson claimed, civilians often get caught in the crosshairs. In fact, one visa applicant already has. Gray Davidson tells the story of Susan O’Brien (a pseudonym) and her husband, Sabas. Sabas entered the U.S. illegally and left so that he could apply for legal immigrant status to be with his U.S. citizen wife and child. During the time he spent in Ciudad Juárez he was kidnapped and killed.

Up until 1988, immigrants visas were once processed at all nine of the U.S. consulates in Mexico. In 1992, Ciudad Juárez became the only place where Mexicans could apply to legally enter the United States. State Department officials claim the consolidation was purely administrative and that it would be a huge hassle to continuously move the consulate around in response to Mexico’s turbulent drug war.

But it seems to me that it’s in the nation’s interest to make it easier for those who want to enter the U.S. through legal channels to do so. It’s bad enough to deny all those undocumented immigrants who made the treacherous journey across the border in search of a better life a path to legalization. Asking Mexicans to risk their lives to “get in the back of the line” to be in the U.S. legally is unacceptable and, as far as I can tell, unnecessary when there are eight other U.S. consulates to choose from.

Andrea Nill

Andrea Nill
The Wonk Room