Fifth Myth: “Immigration laws in Mexico are harsher than we have here.”

To a large part, this statement is true, although the usual mechanism of a list that we get forwarded by our Facebook friends covers permanent immigration to Mexico. When any aspect of this notion is brought up, it tends to be described as “Try the same thing in Mexico, and you will be quickly deported!”. I’ve actually heard “shot in the head” or “killed” in place of “deported”, it’s offered that there is some kind of hypocrisy on the part of Mexico. Somewhat ironically, I’ve also heard responses that we should adopt the same level of reaction to immigration in the United States.

I try to explain my experiences of extensive travels within Mexico contrasted to those saying I could be “shot in the head” by entering Mexico “illegally”. My first point is that you need no documentation (with the ironic exception at some locations of that being paper currency to pay the toll amount) to visit the border areas in Mexico. Since 2010, there is a requirement for U.S. citizens to have a passport, but again ironically it is to be admitted back into the United States at our own Port of Entry!

Around 50 miles from the actual border, there are checkpoints to enforce that foreigners have a travel document to visit the interior of Mexico. Called an “FMM”, it is obtained at any one of the many “IMN” offices, including at those checkpoints themselves. The allowed time before expiration is at the discretion of the immigration officer, but with a U.S. passport it is easy to obtain a valid permit for 180 days.

If the permit is issued as being valid for a period of 7 days, it is cost-free. Otherwise, there is a fee of about $25 USD that must be paid before the permit is turning back in exiting the interior of Mexico. I would commonly acquire an FMM valid for 180 days, visit Mexico for a couple weeks (making sure I visited a bank to pay the fee on that trip), return to the United States for five months, then use the same permit to visit Mexico immediately before it would expire (turning it in at the end of the second trip). As such, I have made entire trips into Mexico, without ever speaking to an immigration officer!

I can’t accent this enough: I have never been asked to show my FMM while in Mexico to prove I was “legally” present. On my first trip, two ‘Federales’ (the Mexican national police) boarded the bus I was on south of Chihuahua at 1:30 AM, and were completely unconcerned whether a blue-eyed American that spoke pidgin Spanish had the proper “papers”.

I’ve even felt comfortable enough to bring my elderly parents in a following vehicle into the interior of Mexico. Certainly there is a difference between travel and permanent immigration, but I am contrasting against the misconception of “illegal entry” and the ease of being deported (or shot) upon being caught in Mexico. Notable recent incidents have been Americans that have brought weapons or ammunition into Mexico in violation of their laws.

It is probably just as important to describe how Mexicans can visit the United States (since there is a specific process solely for them). Mexicans can apply for a “Border Crossing Card” that is valid for 10 years and allows travel only within the defined border area at a distance depending on the state. In Texas and California, it is up to 25 miles from the border, 75 miles in Arizona, and around 50 miles in New Mexico (a few years ago it was extended to include the town of Deming). The allowed time period is up to 72 hours; My wife has a nephew that attended UTEP with a Border Crossing Card.

The card has biometric details of who it is issued to, and it is comparable in the security features of a Resident Card (often colloquially referred to as a “Green Card”, where they are again a green color now). If a Mexican with a BCC wants to visit further into the interior of the United States, the card can have an I-94 extension, expanding the limits to a six-month period like a conventional “Tourist” visa from another country would have (Canada and 38 “Visa Waiver Program” countries have a more relaxed qualifications, where an issued visa is not even required).

At a cost of $160 for Mexicans over the age of 15, but being valid for a time period of ten years, a monetary comparison of the Border Crossing Card to the FMM would depend upon how often the citizen of one country is travelling in the other. The use of an FMM is much easier, as it doesn’t require a card with security features to be approved. Any “visitor”-level program for the United States requires an equal time to be spent outside the United States (in other words, after being present for the period of up to 180 days under the terms of the visa, that individual needs to be outside the United States for a 180-day period before being allowed entry under the same “visitor” level again), whereas I have obtained another FMM upon turning in my old permit (the staff will even advise you to wait for the shift or change of dates, or you can simply go to another office).

The true permanent immigration process for me (since I am married to a Mexican citizen) is slightly quicker (2 years, versus three years), but otherwise the requirements are almost conversely identical (I would be required to understand Spanish, and have a basic knowledge of Mexican civics). Citizenship is more strongly attached by age in Mexico, and youth are viewed as being Mexican Nationals (of course unable to serve in their military or vote) until they reach the age of 18.

We’ve now completed the initial five misconceptions I wanted to address. A review will be next, before continuing to other misconceptions I have observed. Please comment below for any questions or input of the series so far, and I look forward to seeing you visit (no “FMM” or “BCC” required) as we continue.

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