May 6, 2006

An American Working in Mexico [Verified]

LIKE MOST MULTI-FORWARDED INTERNET EMAILS, this one was too good to be true. Except that this one was, as it turned out, all too true.

The email told the tale of how an American manages to work legally in Mexico. It read like the perfect "look at this" counter-argument to the the utterly loose and unregulated situation that Mexicans who come to America to work find for themselves. Because it was "perfect," it set off my BS detector.

We've all gotten the multi-forwarded emails. We get more of them all the time. They all arrive with the same format: headers on top of headers, stacks of email addresses from previous forwards, the ever increasing ">>>>>>'s" characters marching down the left margin, all topped off with the standard "I just knew you'd find this (interesting) (essential) (Important!) (a sign that WE'RE ALL GOING TO DIE!)." And, on occasion, I do find them interesting [See: Be Very Afraid: Avian Bush Derangement Syndrome Outbreak @ AMERICAN DIGEST ].

Today I got one of these from a woman I know in Laguna Beach entitled "Fw: American working In Mexico " which I reproduce in its entirety below. It was, as I said, so perfect for the time and for the issue that I doubted, immediately, the authenticity of the message.

A quick search of the DEW line for these messages, Free Republic , showed me that the item appeared there on April 21st. But Free Republic is not always to be trusted in these matters, so I checked the blogosphere via Technorati and found that blogs beat out Free Republic by one day, on April 20th .

Still, so what? Neither attested to the truth of the message. And so, before I passed it on via American Digest, I decided to do some digging to see if I could locate the original author, Tom O'Malley, and speak with him to see if the message was true.

I did locate him and it is true, or, as he says "It certainly was true when I worked in Mexico. I can't speak for current conditions, but things don't change much in that country."

O'Malley was also amazed at how far his letter had gotten around the Internet. "I originally sent it to only 6 friends. Last week, somebody else I knew sent it to me with a line that said, 'You've really got to read this!' I had to tell him that I was the one that wrote it."

Where Mr. O'Malley is, and how I located and spoke with him, I've agreed to withhold. We spoke for over half an hour. O'Malley knows his stuff, knows Mexico, is a fascinating man to speak with on the issue, and is not shy (as you will see) about sharing his knowledge and insights.

Some people, reading his email, may think he is in some way being "anti-Mexican." Nothing could be less true. "The people there," he said during our interview, "are wonderful people. Each and every one of them. They're kind and polite and considerate to a fault. But their situation in Mexico is terrible. And still, they tolerate it. I guess they don't have any choice."

Why is that?

"The government they endure is pretty much fixed in the way it has always done things. Plus it has an ongoing program of intimidation against its own people. Once a year they have a very large parade in Mexico City where the government brings out all the military gear we've sold them and runs it through the streets. Tanks, trucks, artillery. Fighter jets above and machine guns paraded below. It's all designed to remind and intimidate the population."

I asked him if he saw any way that Mexico itself could improve.

"It breaks your heart to see how exploited these people are. Not only in Mexico, but when they come up here for work. Can it be changed? Maybe if we were to make Mexico a 51st state and export our system of laws and somehow reduce the overwhelming level of corruption in that country. If not, it may well be what our Spanish teachers in Mexico told us whenever the subject of The Mexican Revolution came up, 'We need another one, a second Mexican Revolution.' "

I spent five years working in Mexico.

I worked under a tourist visa for three months and could legally renew it for three more months. After that you were working illegally. I was technically illegal for three weeks waiting on the FM3 approval.

During that six months our Mexican and US Attorneys were working to secure a permanent work visa called a FM3. It was in addition to my US passport that I had to show each time I entered and left the country. Barbara's was the same except hers did not permit her to work.

To apply for the FM3 I needed to submit the following notarized originals (not copies) of my:

1. Birth certificates for Barbara and me.

2. Marriage certificate.

3. High school transcripts and proof of graduation.

4. College transcripts for every college I attended and proof of graduation.

5. Two letters of recommendation from supervisors I had worked for at least one year.

6. A letter from The ST. Louis Chief of Police indicating I had no arrest record in the US and no outstanding warrants and was "a citizen in good standing."

7. Finally; I had to write a letter about myself that clearly stated why there was no Mexican citizen with my skills and why my skills were important to Mexico. We called it our "I am the greatest person on earth" letter. It was fun to write.

All of the above were in English that had to be translated into Spanish and be certified as legal translations and our signatures notarized. It produced a folder about 1.5 inches thick with English on the left side and Spanish on the right.

Once they were completed Barbara and I spent about five hours accompanied by a Mexican attorney touring Mexican government office locations and being photographed and fingerprinted at least three times. At each location (and we remember at least four locations) we were instructed on Mexican tax, labor, housing, and criminal law and that we were required to obey their laws or face the consequences.

We could not protest any of the government's actions or we would be committing a felony.

We paid out four thousand dollars in fees and gratuities to complete the process. When this was done we could legally bring in our household goods that were held by US customs in Loredo Texas. This meant we rented furniture in Mexico while awaiting our goods. There were extensive fees involved here that the company paid.

We could not buy a home and were required to rent at very high rates and under contract and compliance with Mexican law.

We were required to get a Mexican drivers license. This was an amazing process. The company arranged for the licensing agency to come to our headquarters location with their photography and finger print equipment and the laminating machine. We showed our US license, were photographed and fingerprinted again and issued the license instantly after paying out a six dollar fee. We did not take a written or driving test and never received instructions on the rules of the road. Our only instruction was never give a policeman your license if stopped and asked. We were instructed to hold it against the inside window away from his grasp. If he got his hands on it you would have to pay ransom to get it back.

We then had to pay and file Mexican income tax annually using the number of our FM3 as our ID number. The company's Mexican accountants did this for us and we just signed what they prepared. It was about twenty legal size pages annually.

The FM 3 was good for three years and renewable for two more after paying more fees.

Leaving the country meant turning in the FM 3 and certifying we were leaving no debts behind and no outstanding legal affairs (warrants, tickets or liens) before our household goods were released to customs.

It was a real adventure and If any of our senators or congressmen went through it once they would have a different attitude toward Mexico.

The Mexican Government uses its vast military and police forces to keep its citizens intimidated and compliant.

They never protest at their White House or government offices but do protest daily in front of the United States Embassy. The US embassy looks like a strongly reinforced fortress and during most protests the Mexican Military surround the block with their men standing shoulder to shoulder in full riot gear to protect the Embassy. These protests are never shown on US or Mexican TV. There is a large public park across the street where they do their protesting. Anything can cause a protest such as proposed law changes in California or Texas.

Please feel free to share this with everyone who thinks we are being hard on illegal immigrants.
Tom O'Malley

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Posted by Vanderleun at May 6, 2006 11:51 AM | TrackBack
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

I am sure that Tom's company would not want him to appear on cable news shows or to testify at Congressional hearings for fear of some form of retribution by Mexico.

This process is not a secret, yet it is kept secret by the media and by most of our own politicians. I, as always, will send this out with link.

May I make one suggestion:

Please ask your readers to send this post to their Congressmen, Senators in US Congress and their State Congress's. Also, send to Governors and local sheriffs/city councils that refuse to enforce out immigration laws. I know your very bright readers should be able to figure that out for themselves, but I don't think a reminder would insult any of us.

Posted by: LARWYN at May 6, 2006 6:06 PM

This makes the recent illegal alien protests look even more absurd.

Posted by: Ben USN (Ret) at May 6, 2006 7:47 PM

I've never worked in Mexico, but I have (legally) in several other Third World locations (all for US companies, fortunately), and Tom's tale rings true to me. Much of the world outside of US/Canada/Western Europe/Singapore has astonishing levels of corruption AND bureaucracy. Not only are you paying bribes at every turn, you have to fill out amounts of paperwork that simply boggle the mind. What do the locals use all these documents for? Beats me. Of course, the paperwork drill applies only if you're playing by the rules and getting a legitimate work permit. But the bribes are always there. In fact, they can be worse for the illegal worker, because he has no legal cover at all, and has to keep "the best cops that money can buy" from throwing him in the slammer, collecting another bribe, and packing him onto the next flight home.

Posted by: waltj at May 6, 2006 9:41 PM

It would be helpful if we could get some video of protests at the American embassy in Mexico City.

Posted by: papertiger at May 7, 2006 12:03 AM

The whole letter is basically NOT TRUE, but of course the writer of the letter is going to say it is. If you want to read a COMPLETE rebuttal by an American who has lived, worked, and owned a business in México for nearly nine years (me), and another who has lived and worked in México for many years, go to Richard Grabman's blog and read the article posted yesterday that is titled, "The myth of the gringo immigrant..." Here you'll see the REAL truth about working and living in México.

Posted by: David Bodwell at May 10, 2006 10:22 AM

Glad to. What's the URL?

Never mind. Here it is.

We'll take a look.

Posted by: Gerard Van der Leun at May 10, 2006 10:41 AM

Sorry about the missing URL. I was interrupted, then posted, forgetting that I hadn't pasted the URL yet.

Posted by: David Bodwell at May 10, 2006 12:20 PM

Ok, I just read the MexFiles link. David Bodwel completely missed the point.

The point of the American Working in Mexico letter was not to demonstrate how hard it was for a spoiled Amereican in Mexico, but to contrast the hoops he had to jump through to satisfy Mexican laws and regulations to work legally as oppossed to the Mexicans who come to the US illegally.

The Mexican border jumpers get to open bank accounts, buy homes, start busnesses, attend school at local prices, drive without license or insurance, work for cash and pay little or no tax, take advantage of nearly every social safety net program with impunity, and generally live the life of an American citizen without any of the responsibilies. If caught by any law enforcement agency, they receive a notice to appear, are set free, and never appear to whatever court they were assigned.

It kind of makes me want to give up my US citizenship, take Mexican citizenship and then come to America illegally. My life would show a marked improvement. Especially if I was to pick strawberries in Ventura County California where, according to the UFW, the average income for a picker in 2005 was $44,800. That would be a significant raise for me.

Posted by: Indigo Red at May 11, 2006 6:10 PM

yes maybe it was this hard for this person to obttain all of this documents to work legally in mexico. But let me tell you that to get the documents to work in the United States is not that different when I legalized my status in this country my mom applied for me because only a legal family member can apply for somebody who is not legal in country but at that time of the appliction we had to pay a fee of $500 at that time then I had to wait till it was time for me to get my permit to work legally I had to wait for 10 years and when I finally got the appointment with the INS. they gave me a list of more documents that I needed I had to provide them with proof that I had been working for all of those years even though i did'nt had permit to work yet and proof that had no criminal record and also proof that no one in my family had never received any public benefits and then I also had to prove to them that me and all of my family were not poor and that we had a stable work after I gave them all of this the INS envestigated with the FBI my finger prints and that all of the information tha I gave them was true after all of that they finally gave me my permit to work in the U.S after I paid a fee of $4000 dollars I still had to renew that permit every year for 4 years with a $200 fee for every renewal and after those four renewals I finally got my permanent resident card and now I have to wait 5 years with a clean criminal record if I want to become a U.S citizen. I didn't include all of the fees that I had to pay to get all of the papers from all of the different goverment ofices and lawyers if I add everything up I ended up paying about $10.000 dollars in fees. I went through all of that and I'm glad i did because now I can work legally in the U.S but see how is not that different for What this person went through.

Posted by: usa at May 16, 2006 11:48 PM

are you kidding me? you should talk to anyone who has ever tried to get a work visa in the US (like an h-1). the process is much more difficult even without the bribes and corruption.

Posted by: UkiddingME?!?! at June 13, 2006 12:08 AM

Not quite the true picture.

It's true there's a lot paperwork involved in getting your FM3 or FM2 visa but if you speak good Spanish there's no need to pay an over priced lawyer who just loves a naive foreigner $$$. I'm English and didn't hire a lawyer and still got my visa just as quick as anyone using a lawyer. The worst immigration office to go is in Mexico City, it's far better to go to a smaller city like Puebla or Queretaro the staff in smaller offices are far more knowledgeable.

As far as a military parade that's a national day and no ones intimated apart from a few naive foreigners.

Rent, again naive foreigner do your research you can rent any place at normal rates. You can buy property with approval from the Mexican foreign office (SRE) and if the property is within 100kms of the coast or land borders it shall be held in a Mexican trust (you are still the legal owner). There are thousands of US citizens with second homes here in Mexico.

Driving, sure there are loads of under paid corrupt cops wanting there back hander (mordidas = bites). It is dangerous driving in Mexico as the majority don't know the rules, have no insurance (not needed by law) and many of the cars lack servicing for brakes, tires, etc.

That's my two cents worth of the truth from someone who has been here for over four years and loves it.



Posted by: Rob at March 15, 2007 7:25 PM
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