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The Politics of Cross-Border Engagement: Mexican Emigrants and the Mexican State


Reacting to migrants’ many, ongoing involvements with their home communities, sending states have increasingly adopted policies designed to resolve the problems of citizens living abroad and to respond to expatriates’ search for engagement, doing so in ways that best meet home state leaders’ goals. This paper seeks to understand the factors shaping this interaction between sending states and emigrants abroad by studying two contrasting aspects of the Mexican experience – expatriate voting, a relatively new development, and provision of the matrícula consular, a long-standing component of traditional consular services, though one that has recently been transformed. Focusing on the complex set of interactions linking migrants, sending states, and receiving states, the paper identifies the key differences and similarities between these two policies. Both policies suffered from a capacity deficit inherent in sending state efforts to connect with nationals living in a territory that the home country cannot control; both also generated conflict over membership and rights. Nonetheless, Mexico’s efforts to resolve the immigrants’ identification problems in the receiving society proved useful to millions; by contrast, a tiny proportion of emigrants took advantage of the first opportunity to vote from abroad. These diverging experiences demonstrate that sending states can exercise influence when intervening on the receiving society side, where the embeddedness of the immigrant population provides a source of leverage. By contrast, the search to re-engage the emigrants back home encounters greater difficulties and yields poorer results, as the emigrants’ extra-territorial status impedes the effort to sustain the connection to the people and places left behind. In the end, the paper shows that extension to the territory  3of another state yields far more constraints than those found on home soil as well as unpredictable reactions from receiving states and their peoples, not to speak of nationals who no longer perceive the migrants as full members of the society they left.

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