Monday, August 31, 2009

Border Visa Processing: Practical Benefits Diminished

Earlier this year I had the privilege of co-authoring ILW.COM's 2009-2010 Edition of The Consular Posts Book, edited by Rami Fakhoury.  Actually, "co-authoring" is a bit grandiose and exaggerated: I wrote the section on visa processing in Port Au Prince, Haiti.  Still, it had been awhile since anything I'd written made it beyond the digital domain, so it was kind of cool when I received the book in the mail this past June.

To my surprise - and I can only imagine what Rami and staff went through trying to get dozens of lawyers to actually meet authorship deadlines - the new handbook did not contain any information on visa processing in Mexico.  While some more esoteric posts made the list (Armenia and Vietnam, for example), our neighbor to the south went unmentioned, a true reflection of the continuing diminution of border visa processing as a lost art form.

Back in the early 90s when Danny was a newborn and I was tooling around in my 10 year old Chrysler K car convertible, consular processing -- especially in Mexico -- was the bread and butter of my fledgling law practice.  Once a month I turned mother duck and gathered the Indian, Chinese, Filipino, and African clients of my AILA brethren under my wings and flew to El Paso, Texas, via Dallas, for what was more often than not a hair-raising 48 hours.

Back then, border posts like Juarez would entertain all visa applications from those present in the consular district (i.e., anyone who crossed the border from the U.S.) so a lot of folks who either had "issues" or who were terrified of getting stuck in their home country would pay me to bring them to Juarez with their I-797 approvals and get their new visa stamps issued.  We'd fly into El Paso on Thursday, I'd meet with them one on one for last minute issue review, and before dawn we'd be on the van crossing the border.

Why, you might ask, would people go through this?  One simple answer: reentry.  Under bilateral border policies, Mexico didn't want to be stuck with visa applicants from third countries who'd been denied their visa application at a border post.  That meant that if a person crossed into Mexico with a valid I-94, they could reenter the U.S. even though their visa stamp had been denied at the U.S. consulate in Mexico.  That's a big insurance policy for those concerned.

The whole thing worked well but surprises were common, particularly when clients would "forget" to tell me about "issues", such as a denial in their home country.  By the time I decided that I was tired of  the monthly trips and passed them on to my associate, I'd done about 250 visas in Juarez, all approved, but all nail-biters given the realities of client expectations and consular absolutism.

These days, consular processing in border posts such as Juarez serves basically as simple tool for those without issues: the visa examiners will gladly renew a visa stamp in the existing category, but don't ask them for a change of category because they won't do it.  And while border policies regarding re-entry after visa denial are anything but clear, the demand for this "Insurance" has been significantly reduced through the new consulate polices.





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