(This story has been updated)
Mexican Oklahomans soon will be able to open bank accounts and purchase homes and vehicles without being forced to leave the state to update or secure vital documentation.
Starting May 1, a team of 30 locally hired employees and six Mexican government officials will begin booking appointments at the Mexican consulate in Oklahoma City and deploying mobile consulates across the state to serve the more than 110,000 Mexican nationals who call Oklahoma home.
The location of the consulate has not been announced to prevent people from showing up for services that are still unavailable, said Edurne Pineda, the titular consul in Oklahoma City. Her Jan. 19 Twitter post showed renovations are underway.
The mobile consulate already has committed to deploying to Catholic churches in Tulsa — St. Francis Xavier on May 6 and St. Thomas More on May 20, Pineda said. There is also a need to reach far beyond Oklahoma’s urban centers to places like Guymon, where the Mexican community is one of the most concentrated in the state.
More than 354,000 Oklahomans identify as having Mexican heritage, according to the 2020 census, many of who will be able to take advantage of consular services without having to travel to the regional consulate in Little Rock, Arkansas.
Rep. Arturo Alonso-Sandoval, D- Oklahoma City, is a first-generation U.S. citizen and holds dual citizenship with Mexico. He remembers making the trip to Little Rock with his parents as a middle schooler.
“We had to do it in one day because my parents had work the next day, and I was still in school,” said Alonso-Sandoval, whose south Oklahoma City’s House district is 67% Hispanic. “We woke up really early, took the trip, waited a decent amount in Arkansas because any Oklahoma person that wanted to receive consular services was also in Little Rock.”
He said a Mexican consulate in Oklahoma City will allow the state’s rapidly growing Mexican population to fully contribute economically, culturally and politically.
“As our community grows, the labor force is going to continue growing, we’re going to have more cultural representation and, of course, political influence,” he said.
Pineda said second and third-generation Mexicans, who like Alonso-Sandoval were born in the U.S., would also be afforded services, starting with the right to apply for dual citizenship.
The consulate will offer services to individuals with active or expired U.S. work visas, green card holders, and members of families with mixed legal status. However, a Mexican consulate does not entertain matters related to immigration into the United States, she said. That’s the job of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services – rather, it will focus on the provision of services related to being a Mexican citizen already living in the country.
Those services will be divided into four distinct departments that will be formed in order of priority: documentation, protection, community, and promotion.
The documentation department will allow Oklahomans to apply for and renew their Mexican passports, consular IDs, and voter registrations. It will also provide birth registrations, death certificates, marriage licenses and background checks, along with limited notary services like granting and revoking powers of attorney, will writing and parental authority agreements.
It will allow Mexican Oklahomans who are migrant workers in the country without permission to enroll in the Mexican Institute of Social Security, allowing them to pay into a retirement account which they can take advantage of upon returning to Mexico after a 20 or 30-year stint working abroad.
“If you are an undocumented worker in the United States, you do not have a social security number here, and you can’t enroll in health insurance,” Pineda said, “but you can go to the consulate and start making contributions to your retirement fund and even enroll yourself and your family still living in Mexico in health insurance.”
The consulate will help Oklahomans navigate immigration and labor disputes, as well as other civil and criminal matters.
“We are not going to defend,” Pineda said. “We are not lawyers who can practice in the United States, but we can talk to the community, listen to them and give them guidance on how to orient them when it comes to legal matters.”
She said the ultimate goal for this department is to be able to form partnerships with attorneys willing to provide paid and pro bono representation. The current plan is to dedicate five or six consulate workers to legal aid.
Mexican Oklahomans can also use the consulate for assistance with opening bank accounts and sending money abroad, buying homes and enrolling children in school. Pineda said she plans to schedule health fairs, offering free mammograms, vaccinations, diabetes and cholesterol tests and vision and dental exams aimed at those without insurance.
The consulate’s website will allow people to schedule appointments and view a calendar of events. Though those living in Oklahoma will be a priority, residents of surrounding states are eligible for services.
Alonso-Sandoval said he is excited to see the Mexican community in Oklahoma grow and develop and help construct the state to be “the great state it continues to be.
“We’re going to have more of a voice and a greater sense of belonging,” he said.
Lionel Ramos is a Report for America corps member who covers race and equity issues for Oklahoma Watch. Contact him at 405-905-9953 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LionelRamos_.