Op-Ed: A Consulate's Duty Is to Protect

Op-Ed: A Consulate's Duty Is to Protect
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Imagine you were traveling abroad in Germany. You are staying there for one week and decide to rent a car to visit the neighboring towns. Your travel is seamless the first couple of days. However, on the third day, you exceed the speed limit and a cop arrests you. You are alone and, of course, not familiar with the local laws. Who will you call? You might think to notify your relatives, but know that you have the right to make what will be your most important call: to your country's consulate.

A consulate is an agency that officially represents a foreign government in a specific jurisdiction within another country. According to the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations of 1963 — the main treaty that regulates consular relations among most of the world's nations — one of the consulate's main functions is to protect the interests of the sending country as well as the interests and rights of its nationals in another country. It can also help its nationals and arrange appropriate representation for them before the legal system plays out in the receiving country.

Those are some of the main responsibilities that the Consulate General of Mexico in Denver protects and defends within its jurisdiction, which covers Colorado, thirteen counties in eastern Wyoming and 23 counties in eastern Montana.

One of the Consulate's principal activities is to make sure that all Mexican nationals know their rights in case they are taken into custody by any authority. The Consulate must be notified of an arrest, which is a core right established by the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations.

Once the Consulate is notified about the detention of one of its nationals, consular officials are able to visit and communicate with that person, no matter if it is in a county jail, a state correctional facility, a federal prison or an immigration detention center. While visiting with its nationals under arrest, the Consulate notes the conditions of the facility that houses the arrested person and ensures detainees have access to an interpreter and that their civil rights are being respected. Additionally, the consulate can help arrange the detainee's legal representation. In the case of Mexican nationals who are under immigration removal proceedings, the Consulate works to ensure that the repatriation to Mexico takes place in an orderly and safe manner that considers human rights, particularly for those who are in a vulnerable condition, such as suffering from a chronic health issue.

As part of its responsibilities, the Mexican Consulate in Denver also provides daily support to Mexican nationals who require assistance in a variety of situations, including labor rights violations, family law issues or civil claims.

The Consulate is particularly devoted to assist those who have been victims of any kind of crime or abuse, such as human trafficking, domestic violence or discriminatory cases involving the LGBTQIA community. It is essential to continue strengthening communication with local authorities so victims have access to justice. Lawyers, non-profit organizations and civil rights advocates also partner with the Consulate to better serve Mexican nationals in Denver and our other jurisdictions.

It is the duty of a country to protect and assist its citizens abroad. Mexico is aware of this responsibility and through the consular protection has always worked to defend the rights of its nationals and serve those who are in need of advocacy or support, regardless of the situation they find themselves in.

Antonio Portilla-Montemayor is the Consul of Protection and Legal Affairs for the Mexican Consulate in Denver.

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