It’s not hard to confuse the American Embassy on Paseo de la Reforma in downtown Mexico City for an elaborate 3rd world bunker – high walls, looming gates, bullet-proof glass. If you make it inside the building, you’re escorted floor-to-floor by armed guards.
Which isn’t to say that its personnel aren’t decent or friendly people. But the overall experience – the architecture, barriers, pat downs and constant vigilance – can leave visitors cold.
To ordinary Mexicans seeking to visit family or do business in the US, applying for a visa can be stressful, even intimidating. To increase their odds, most show up with salary stubs, school diplomas, property deeds, bank statements… anything that can help support their claims.
Yet Donald Locke, the Embassy’s Regional Coordinator for Fraud Prevention, claims that “no documents are necessary for verification” other than an official Mexican ID. There’s no reason, he says, for applicants to bring any supporting documents.
Is this a lie, or just obliviousness?
Does excess bureaucracy instill corruption?
US diplomats who serve in Mexico City deal with more fraud than their colleagues at any other post in the world. Every diplomat is specially trained in fraud detection, and all know about the services supplied by third parties to help visa applicants. These third parties (known as “coyotes”) occupy many of the stalls and storefronts surrounding the Embassy building.
Many of the signs used to lure customers make claims such as “100% success rate” and “inside embassy contacts”. They prey on the fears of people who arrive each day in the hundreds, many from provincial towns, some never having been to Mexico City before.
This scenario, according to the American embassy, involves a bunch of villains (coyotes) who employ sleazy tactics to lure unwitting Mexicans into submitting false info. Coyotes, they say, are to blame for rampant fraud. “There’s no longer a high season,” said one American diplomat. “Every day during interviews, we detect fake documents.”
In the first half of 2016, over 6,000 cases of fraud were filed for prosecution, all involving an intermediary who helped “falsify information” or give “inaccurate advice”. That’s an average of 1,000 cases a month, all allegedly involving a coyote.
But how can every falsification be blamed on a coyote? Is it that simple? Most applicants knowingly submit false information. No doubt some are tricked, or ignorant; and others are given “inaccurate advice”. But many knowingly, willfully falsify information… or permit someone else to do it for them.
Why the Embassy refuses to acknowledge this truth is puzzling.
Are they using this as a pretext to clean up the surrounding area of sleazy businesses that reportedly pull in millions per year? That would at least make sense.
While they’re at it, they may ask why visa applicants feel so intimidated by the visa process. And question whether coyotes are to blame for applicants’ willingness to submit false info.
I’m doubtful that ridding the gaudy storefronts that surround the Embassy would even eliminate the problem. So my point is not to defend coyotes. I’m simply suggesting that the Embassy face up to unpleasant truths.
It would help to re-engineer (or at least re-think) the visa process.