I knew some game was afoot this morning when I opened Gmail.
My inbox was filled with several questions about a "new" identification requirement for visitors to Mexico. A Canadian friend, whose politics are decidedly civil libertarian, was quite peeved that he "will now be forced to carry identification papers as if I were living in ... ." Here he invoked Godwin's Law. It was an inevitable comparison.
Because I was enjoying the unplanned vacation from Facebook, I had missed the discussions that had been blowing around on our local Facebook group pages concerning this topic. But I am now caught up.
The answer for my Canadian NDP-supporting friend is that there is no new law. The Mexican government has always required non-citizens to carry proof that they are within the country legally.
To put that in context, every country I have traveled in has a similar requirement. I remember, not so long ago, when traveling in Europe, visitors had to surrender their passports to the hotel front desk or to the local police. The only reason I was not required to make friends with the local constabulary was that I did not travel with a passport in those days.
In Mexico, that means different requirements depending on your immigration status.
If you are here on a tourist visa (the half of the FMM document you received when you filled out the form on the airplane or at the border when processing through Immigration), you must carry the original of that piece of paper whenever you leave your residence. You must also carry your original passport.
If you are a permanent or temporary resident, you are required to have your current visa card on your person. That means the original, not a copy. And, if you are trying to outwit the authorities by leaving your original card at home while carrying a laminated copy, the authorities are on to that trick. There is a hefty penalty for trying to pass a forged document as the original.
Permanent and temporary residents are not required to carry their original passports when they are away from their residence. But it is a wise idea to carry a copy of the photograph page (or a photograph of that page on your telephone).
I can testify, as a permanent resident, that failing to carry these documents can be, at least, an impediment to your travels, if not to your right to stay in Mexico.
There is nothing new in either requirement. That has been the law since I moved here, and I was warned accordingly when I received my first permanent resident card.
In reality, most foreigners do not comply with that particular rule -- even the law-abiding sorts who buckle their seat belts here. But, there are consequences for failing to comply.
Let me add my testimony as a fellow criminal. Several years ago I was stopped at a police roadblock on the cuota just east of Guadalajara while on my way to San Miguel de Allende. I had left both my visa card and my passport in Villa Obregon. After all, I was not leaving the country. The police officer first said I would be detained until someone brought both documents to him. There was no one who could. After an appropriate time in his detention, he sent me on my way. With a warning.
So, if there is no rule, why the flurry on Facebook?
There are plenty of laws that exist. But many of them are lightly enforced, if they are enforced at all. The requirement for foreigners to carry their papers with them generally fell in the latter category.
No more. Mexico has stepped up its enforcement of monitoring in-country immigration status as a direct result of the Mexican government's efforts to cooperate with American authorities in keeping immigrants from moving through Mexico to the American border. Mexican Immigration is just as interested in returning illegal immigrants to their home country for their own national interests.
That enforcement has created legal interaction with foreign tourists on Mexican buses. The Mexican authorities stop buses and check the documents of the passengers. If the documents do not meet the legal requirements, the officers have the discretion to detain the undocumented foreigner.
I cannot verify the veracity of the claims, but some message boards report that foreigners they know have been deported because they did not have a valid visa -- most often, the visa has expired. Everything I have read notes that the foreigners who have been deported confessed they were also carrying on a business without legal authorization. Most of them have been artists.
At least one bus line, Autobuses de Oriente (ADO), is requiring all passengers to present identification sufficient for immigration purposes before a ticket can be purchased. For Mexicans that is simple. They present their national identity card. Other transpiration outlets may or may not follow ADO's example.
My source, who is usually reliable on immigration matters, tells me that officials are considering roadblocks to check passengers in trucks and cars, as well as buses.
So, that is the flurry. There is no new immigration requirement. The rule that has long-existed is simply being enforced. Wise people will act accordingly.
It is another reason why taking out Mexican citizenship is a good idea if you intend to be part of this country.