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Summary

Mexico’s Law of Migration provides a broad immigration policy framework, and rules regulating visas, establishing penalties applicable to unlawful entry and overstays, and establishing a legalization process for undocumented immigrants.  Mexico’s Nationality Law governs naturalization procedures. 

The administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón had one main objective concerning border security: to protect the security of the borders and the human rights of the inhabitants and immigrants in those regions.  In order to achieve these objectives, the administration created units composed of federal and local police officers supported by military forces tasked with protecting the security of Mexicans and the inhabitants of border regions, and created communications channels with neighboring countries in order to exchange information and share strategies concerning border security.

In December 2012, current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto indicated that his administration will create a National Gendarmery tasked with strengthening control of strategic assets, such as borders, ports, and airports.

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Migration Law and Policy

Governing Principles

Immigration in Mexico is primarily governed by the Law of Migration[1] and its regulations.  This Law provides a broad set of guiding principles on immigration policy, including

  • absolute respect for the human rights of migrants, both nationals and foreigners;
  • protection of the rights of foreign migrants in Mexico to the same extent that Mexico demands protection for the rights of Mexican migrants abroad;
  • shared responsibility with the governments of other countries on immigration issues;
  • hospitality and solidarity with foreign individuals who need a new place to reside, either temporarily or permanently, due to extreme circumstances in their countries of origin that put their lives at risk;
  • the facilitation of international mobility of individuals, while protecting security and order;
  • complementarity of labor markets with other countries in the region;
  • acknowledgement of the acquired rights of immigrants, where foreigners have earned rights and obligations due to their family, labor, or business relationships established in Mexico, even if those foreigners may have lived in Mexico without immigration status, provided that they have been otherwise law abiding individuals;
  • family unity, which is recognized as an element for the integration of a productive social fabric of Mexico’s immigrant community; and
  • social and cultural integration of nationals and foreigners who reside in Mexico, with respect for the cultures and customs of immigrants, provided they do not contravene Mexican laws.[2]

The National Institute of Migration (part of Mexico’s Department of Governance) has the authority to execute, control, and supervise the acts performed by immigration authorities and to implement immigration policies pursuant to guidelines issued by the Department of Governance.[3]

Visas

The Law of Migration provides that in order to enter Mexico, foreigners generally must present a valid passport and a current visa.[4]  Visas are not required in certain instances, such as when the country of origin of the foreigner is exempt from this requirement pursuant to international agreements or unilateral decisions of the Mexican government.[5]  Alternatively, foreigners who wish to enter Mexico may present a resident card, or a card issued to regional visitors (i.e., nationals from, or residents in, Guatemala and Belize who are allowed to visit Mexico’s border regions for up to three days), visitor border workers (i.e., Guatemalan and Belizean nationals who are allowed to work for up to a year in certain Mexican states), and visitors for humanitarian reasons.[6]

There are several types of visas, including visitor (with or without a work permit), adoption purposes, temporary resident, student, and permanent resident visas.[7]  Issuance of visas and permits for entry and stay may be denied for several reasons, including where the alien is subject to criminal proceedings or has been convicted for a serious crime pursuant to Mexican law or applicable treaties, or on national security or public safety grounds related to the foreigner’s background in Mexico or abroad.[8]

Penalties for Unlawful Entry and Overstays

Mexico’s Migration Law provides that undocumented aliens who enter the country without authorization may be deported.[9]  Aliens who overstay their visas or engage in activities different from those authorized may apply for legal status, provided that applicable requirements are met.[10]  Those requirements include paying a fine ranging from twenty to one hundred days of the general minimum daily wage in force in Mexico’s Federal District.[11]  As of March 2013, the general minimum daily wage in the Federal District was $64.76 Mexican pesos[12] (approximately US$5.20).[13]

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Legalization of Undocumented Immigrants

Undocumented aliens may apply for immigration status provided that applicable requirements are met.[14]  More specifically, undocumented aliens residing in Mexico have the right to apply for legal status if they

  • are married to, or have a common law marriage with, a Mexican national or legal resident in Mexico;
  • have Mexican children or parents, or are guardians of Mexican nationals or legal residents in Mexico;
  • are identified by Mexican authorities as victims or witnesses of a serious crime committed in Mexico;
  • have a level of vulnerability that makes it difficult or impossible for them to be deported; or
  • are children and adolescents subject to international abduction and restitution procedures.[15]

In addition, aliens who have overstayed their visas, engage in activities different from those authorized, or simply lack the necessary documentation to prove legal status may apply for immigration status provided that applicable requirements are met.[16]  Generally, undocumented aliens who wish to apply for legal status must

  • submit a statement to Mexico’s National Institute of Migration requesting regularization of status and explaining the irregularities incurred by the alien;
  • present an official identification document;
  • if the application is based on a relationship with a Mexican national or legal resident in Mexico, provide documentation of such relationship;
  • in the case of aliens who overstay their visas, present their expired visa and apply for status within sixty days after such expiration occurred;
  • pay a fine; and
  • fulfill the requirements applicable to the particular status that the alien wishes to obtain.[17]

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Citizenship

Mexico’s Constitution provides that Mexican nationality may be acquired by birth or by naturalization.[18]  The Constitution provides that Mexicans by birth are those

  • born in Mexican territory, regardless of the nationality of the parents;
  • born abroad from a Mexican parent born in Mexico;
  • born abroad from a Mexican parent by naturalization; or
  • born aboard a Mexican vessel or aircraft.[19] 

Mexico’s Nationality Law provides that a foreigner who wants to apply for naturalization must demonstrate that he/she has resided in Mexico for at least five years immediately preceding the filing of the application.[20]  This period of residency in Mexico may be reduced to two years if the applicant

  • is a direct descendant of a Mexican national by birth;
  • has children who are Mexican nationals by birth;
  • is a native of a Latin American country or the Iberian Peninsula;
  • has been married to a Mexican national and has lived in Mexico with his/her Mexican spouse for two years; or
  • has provided a service that is beneficial to Mexico in the fields of culture, society, science, art, sports, or business, subject to the discretion of Mexico’s Department of Foreign Affairs.[21]

The five-year period of residency in Mexico may be reduced to one year if the applicant for naturalization is adopted by a Mexican national.[22]

In addition to the period of residency, applicants for naturalization are required to speak Spanish, demonstrate knowledge of the history of Mexico and integration into its culture, take an oath of allegiance to Mexico, renounce any other nationality, and submit a naturalization application to Mexico’s Department of Foreign Affairs.[23]

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Border Security

The administration of former Mexican President Felipe Calderón, who was in power from 2006 to 2012, had one main objective concerning border security: to protect the security of the borders and the human rights of the inhabitants and immigrants in those regions.[24]  In order to achieve this objective, the administration (1) created units composed of federal and local police officers supported by military forces that were tasked with protecting the security of Mexicans and the inhabitants of border regions who are exposed to smugglers and human and drug traffickers; and (2) created communications channels with neighboring countries in order to exchange information and share strategies concerning border security, with the goal of controlling immigration flows, protecting the rights of migrants, and combating international criminals and terrorists.[25]

In 2012, President Calderón informed the Mexican Congress that, pursuant to these two strategies, the federal government (through its Departments of Justice, Foreign Relations, Governance, Defense, and Navy, as well as Mexican state and local authorities) strengthened cooperation mechanisms on security, border development, and communications with the governments of Mexico’s three neighboring countries, the United States, Guatemala, and Belize.[26]

Furthermore, Mexico’s armed forces were tasked with patrolling the northern and southern borders in 2011 and 2012, which resulted in the arrest of criminals and seizure of narcotics, weapons, and currency.[27]  In addition, Mexico’s Department of Justice coordinated a series of law enforcement efforts in Mexico’s southern border regions, including drug and human trafficking operations.[28]  In December 2012, current Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto indicated that his administration will create a National Gendarmery tasked with strengthening control of strategic assets, such as borders, ports, and airports.[29]

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Gustavo Guerra
Senior Foreign Law Specialist
March 2013

 

[1] Ley de Migración [Law of Migration], Diario Oficial de la Federación [D.O.], May 25, 2011, available on the website of Mexico’s House of Representatives, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/LMigra.pdf.

[2] Id. art. 2.

[3] Id.  art. 19.

[4] Id. art. 37-I.

[5] Id. art. 37-III.

[6] Id. arts. 37-I(c) & 52-III, IV.

[7] Id. art. 40.

[8] Id. art. 43.

[9] Id. art. 144(I)–(II).

[10] Id. arts. 134(I)–(II), 135.

[11] Id. arts. 134(I), 135(V), 146.

[12] Salarios Mínimos Generales por Áreas Geográficas 1992–2013 [General Minimum Wage by Region 1992–2013], Comisión Nacional de los Salarios Mínimos [National Minimum Wage Commission], http://www.conasami.gob.mx/pdf/salario_minimo/sal_min_gral_area_geo.pdf.

[13] Mercado cambiario (Tipos de cambio) [Exchange Market (Exchange Rates)], Banco de México, http://www.banxico.org.mx/portal-mercado-cambiario/index.html (peso to US dollar exchange rate as of Mar. 20, 2013).

[14] Ley de Migración arts. 132, 133.

[15] Id. art. 133.

[16] Id. arts. 132, 134.

[17] Id. arts. 134, 135.

[18] Constitución Política de los Estados Unidos Mexicanos [Political Constitution of the Mexican United States], as amended, art. 30, D.O., Feb. 5, 1917, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/1.pdf.   

[19] Id.

[20] Ley de Nacionalidad [Law of Nationality], as amended, art. 20, D.O., Jan. 23, 1998, http://www.diputados.gob.mx/LeyesBiblio/pdf/53.pdf

[21] Id.

[22] Id.

[23] Id. art. 19.

[24] Ch. 1.9, Seguridad fronteriza [Border Security], in Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2007–2012, [National Development Plan 2007–2012], http://pnd.calderon.presidencia.gob.mx/eje1/seguridad-fronteriza.html.

[25] Id.

[26] Ch. 1.9, Seguridad fronteriza [Border Security], Sexto Informe de Gobierno [Sixth Government Report (Presidential Report to Congress)] 90 (2012), http://sexto.informe.gob.mx/pdf/INFORME_ESCRITO/01_CAPITULO_ESTADO_DE_DERECHO_ Y_SEGURIDAD/1_09_Seguridad_Fronteriza.pdf.

[27] Id.

[28] Id.

[29] Creación de la Gendarmería Nacional [Creation of the National Gendarmery], Presidencia de la República (Dec. 17, 2012), http://www.presidencia.gob.mx/creacion-de-la-gendarmeria-nacional/.

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Last Updated: 11/03/2014