Editor’s Note: Mexico´s Constitution was amended on June 6 and June 10, 2011 in several significant ways that affect expatriates, and we thought you ought to be informed about this. There are issues in the news today that are creating strong emotional reactions among expatriates and native Yucatecans. The difference is that we, as guests in the country of Mexico, must be very careful what we say and how we react. Mexico has a history of being invaded and otherwise influenced by the United States, and for that reason, has written laws that limit that kind of influence. We appreciate and value all our expatriate friends here, and want to make sure that we all understand both our rights and the restrictions we live under as guests in Mexico. As the political environment in Merida and Yucatan heats up with the impending elections, and as expatriates gain more years and confidence living in Merida and want to spend time improving the situation of orphans, AIDS patients, teens and stray dogs, we think it is important for us to know what the rules are for our behavior in our adopted country. Thanks to Steven Fry for investigating and reporting on this issue for us. Steven Fry writes for Yucatan Living when he isn’t writing for his own blog, Yucalandia, for which we are very grateful.
Mexico’s Constitutional Rights for Expatriates
While individual American states have chosen to limit expatriate rights and not honor international agreements like the Geneva Convention, Mexico’s Constitution specifies that the Government is bound by the Human Rights requirements of any treaty it has signed. As some countries find ways to limit expatriate rights, Mexico has increased additional rights and protections to her expatriates. The recent Constitutional changes affecting expatriates are both major and minor. Several wording changes now make the government not only responsible for violations of human rights, but also for its omissions.
In another significant change, the Constitution used to only say that the Government “shall have exclusive authority to expel from Mexico, immediately and without trial, any foreigner whose stay is deemed inconvenient.” Now it says “The Executive of the Union, after a hearing, may expel foreigners from the country on the basis of the law…”. This means that inconvenient expatriates are now entitled to legal hearings before they are expelled. (See Articles 33 and 30 of the Mexican Constitution at the official Mexican Judicial website, and use the arrows to scroll between Article pages.)
Why are these changes important? There are a number of activities that most expatriates would normally consider legal and reasonable but are expressly forbidden by the Mexican Constitution. As in other countries, ignorance of the law does not equate to innocence, and the consequences are permanent deportation, and sometimes property seizure. Of course, we imagine that this is something that any expatriate who has bought property and set up a life here will want to avoid whenever possible.
Expatriate Constitutional Restrictions
Since the restrictions on expatriate activities are not intuitive, here are some common activities that might trap expatriates and expose them to liability under the law.
“Only Citizens of the Republic may take part in the political affairs of the country.” From Article 9, this means that visitors or permanent residents are not allowed to take any action that can be construed as being political. For example, in 2008, the Diario de Yucatan, Merida’s most popular local newspaper, reported the story of a young man who had been watching a political demonstration in Merida. As things got heated, he moved off the street into a nearby store to shop and escape the demonstration. The police noticed him, took him out of the store, arrested him, and permanently expelled him from the country for “political activities”.
In a more current context, if as a local expatriate, you are upset or even curious about the construction of the traffic underpass at the Fountain Glorieta on Prolongacion de Montejo (a.k.a. the “Burger King” Circle), you could find yourself arrested and deported for publicly commenting on the issue or even for being close to the protests.
In addition, expatriates, also called immigrants, who become Naturalized Mexican Citizens can be stripped of their Mexican citizenship if they live abroad continuously for more than five years, under Article 37, Item II. Such Naturalized Citizens also cannot render voluntary services to a foreign government, unless approved by the Congreso Federal o de su commison permanente, nor can they accept or use foreign government titles of nobility (no fealty). This may not be something you are considering, but in case you are, it is good to know.
Finally, Article 32 of the Constitution bans immigrants, foreigners, and even naturalized citizens of Mexico from serving as Mexican-flagged airline crews or ship crews, Military Officers, or chiefs of seaports and airports.
This list of requirements and restrictions is not meant to cover all legal restrictions for expatriates, but it is a simple guide to avoiding unnecessary problems in these recent times of political and legal turmoil.
As a final note, even though “inconvenient” expatriates now get a legal hearing when accused of participating in political activities, there is no guarantee that the expat will win this hearing. especially if they get involved in political issues, make public political statements, or stick around witnessing protests over road and bridge constructions. As expatriates, we will have opinions. Any efforts at voicing those opinions or attempting to influence the government or Mexican citizens based on our opinions must not be taken lightly.
If you want more information on the changes, the Mexican Supreme Court has assembled a list of the changes at Reformas Constitucionales en Materia de Amparao y Derechos Humanos Publicadas en Junio de 2011. Read it in the original Spanish, and if you have any question about it, we suggest you contact a respected local lawyer or notario who speaks English to interpret it for you personally.