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The ordeal of returning the body of a "hero" to his longed-for Mexico

By Pamela Cruz in collaboration with Peninsula 360 Press Community Journalism Workshop
For the family of Laura Rubio, a resident of Redwood City, San Mateo, California, USA, the repatriation of her relative's body to Mexico was a real ordeal. To the pain that flooded them was added the odyssey to find the necessary help to return the body of the man who, out of necessity, had to leave his homeland to seek a better life, not knowing that, one day, returning home would be more difficult than leaving it.

Laura Rubio, a participant in the journalism workshop given by Peninsula 360 Press, said that after discovering the body of her relative, the first thing they thought of was to talk to the Mexican Consulate: "we were lost, we had no experience. They made me fill out a series of documents that unfortunately had nothing to do with anything".

After filling out this series of forms, and having to have family members travel to another state to sign other documents, Laura realized it was "all a waste of time.

The support provided by the Mexican consulate does not go beyond granting between 400 and 500 dollars, he said, when just the transfer of his family members to sign documents cost around 250 dollars.

"I focused first on getting all the documents and sending them. When I sent them, very sadly I checked and it was a request for monetary assistance. I think many of our compatriots are lost and it is definitely a waste of time. The consulate should say from the beginning: we do not help you to do any process to send the body of your relative, you have to hire a funeral home," he stressed.

After realizing that the support would only be for that amount, Laura became frustrated. On top of everything else, she had to consider expenses to obtain birth certificates, or documents that sometimes "you don't have at hand".

Laura, like millions of Mexicans abroad, does not know the process to repatriate a body to Mexico. But they trusted what President Andrés Manuel López Obrador said at the end of 2019: "all funeral expenses for migrants will be paid by the Government of the Republic." 

On Friday, December 27, 2019, the Mexican president said in his "morning" conference that the repatriation of bodies "is a humanitarian issue. It is not a matter of money. It is not how much our ?living heroes?".

To date, those words have not been translated into concrete actions. Relatives of Mexicans who have died elsewhere have had to pay around $7,000 to help their deceased return home.

Despite the fact that remittances sent to Mexico by immigrants residing in the U.S. reached a record of 50 billion 484 million dollars in 2021, the government has not made a specific allocation to cover 100 percent of the repatriation of bodies. This disagrees with AMLO's statements two years earlier.

The Mexican president acknowledged that these monetary remittances from the millions of immigrants in the United States are Mexico's main source of income and, therefore, he said at the time, the repatriation of bodies is a responsibility of his government.

"It is our responsibility to ensure that those who lose their lives in another country do not lack anything. That Mexicans are cared for, supported, that is a function. It is a responsibility of the consulates in the U.S., 50 consulates have to be supporting and there should be no budgetary limitations in these cases. There are no budgetary limitations.

That same morning, he assured that the issue would be resolved through the Secretary of Foreign Affairs, and guaranteed that the repatriation of bodies would be a right of Mexicans.

"Right now we are going to see with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs so that this can be resolved. And since both the paisanos and the public servants of the consulates are listening to us, let this be an instruction, like a memorandum, in which All funeral expenses of migrants are paid by the Government of the Republic. It is already a right they have. It's the least we can do for them."

In response to these words, Laura Rubio called on the Mexican president: "I want you to know that this is the reality. They are not helping us, on the contrary, they are wasting our time".

Laura and her family approached a funeral home that, unlike the Mexican consulate, gave them a prompt response, assuring them that they would take care of all the paperwork with the consulate," of course, agreeing to pay amounts that are often unaffordable.

For her part, the Consul General of Mexico in San Jose, California, Alejandra Maria Gabriela Bologna Zubikarai, said that each case is different in terms of repatriation of bodies, so the agency analyzes each situation, and based on this, support is provided to the next of kin.

"It depends on each situation. The idea is that they come to us immediately because many times, unfortunately, they arrive with funeral homes, they make commitments that go beyond that and then they make very large bills. Then it depends on what the situation is," she said when questioned about President López Obrador's statements said it would be done in 2019.

He emphasized that, although the instructions of the President of Mexico are being carried out, there are also budgetary limitations, and there is no memorandum or document, as such, that indicates that the consulates in the U.S. must pay in full for the repatriation of a body.

It seems that there are no general guidelines for all consulates, since, she said, the consulate she attends, can only attend to what happens with nationals in certain counties, so she would not talk about the provisions of the other agencies.

"There is no written memorandum as such. There are provisions, but each case is particular. I am not going to talk anything about issues that have to do with other consulates."

"In the case of people who pass away through COVID and come to the consulate, an analysis is made of the needs of each person because they have different needs, there are those who request all the resources, there are those who request fewer resources. We attend to them in compliance with the provisions that have been established".

These provisions, he emphasized, are "to attend to the Mexican community, there is no specification that we have to do A, B, C? This works with a budget. There is no generalized measure.

Among the information available on the repatriation of bodies from some Mexican consulates in the U.S., the one in the city of Seattle stands out, which, in its latest update, made on February 4, 2022, expressly states that:

"The consulate can provide a percentage of economic support in cases where the family is in a state of economic insolvency. This support can only be requested by immediate family members, subject to the available budget, in no case is it granted for the total cost of the services, it is determined according to the economic situation of each family and is paid directly to the chosen funeral home. that it must provide a receipt to the consulate and deduct the amount of the support from the total amount to be paid to the family".

In the event that the death was caused by COVID-19, the consulate emphasizes that it is the U.S. government that provides assistance through the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), and refers to the agency's official website.

In 2018, according to the Current Population Survey (CPS), It is estimated that around 38.5 million people living in the United States are of Mexican origin, of which 12.3 million are Mexican-born and 26.2 million are second and third generation Mexicans, that is, people with one or both parents born in Mexico.

During the investigation, a request has been made to Mexico's National Institute of Transparency, Access to Information and Protection of Personal Data to access precise figures for each consulate in the U.S. and the items to which they are allocated. 

In the second part of this report you will learn about the information provided by this autonomous organization.

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You may be interested in: P360P's community journalism workshop kicks off

Pamela Cruz
Pamela Cruz
Editor-in-Chief of Peninsula 360 Press. A communicologist by profession, but a journalist and writer by conviction, with more than 10 years of media experience. Specialized in medical and scientific journalism at Harvard and winner of the International Visitors Leadership Program scholarship from the U.S. government.

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