Alicia Kerber is the head consul at the Mexican Consulate in Kansas City, ConsulMex.sre.gob.mx/KansasCity. Kerber was born and raised in Mexico City and earned a doctorate in international law there before embarking on a diplomatic career. Before moving to Kansas City in 2012, Kerber was posted to Ireland. This conversation took place at the Mexican Consulate.
What is life in the diplomatic service like for your family?
I am married to another lawyer, so the discussions at home are always, you know, argumentative (laughs). My husband is from Spain, so he studied in Madrid and has a Ph.D. in human rights, so we are always talking about many topics.
And he is willing to follow you around the world, to Ireland and Kansas City?
Yes, he is very supportive because he believes in equality between women and men. We have 11-year-old twin girls and he took care of them when they were younger.
How many Mexicans in Kansas and Missouri are affected by President Barack Obama’s executive order on immigration (which offers temporary legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants and a reprieve from deportation)?
In Kansas, 23,000, and those people have the potential to bring $20 million dollars to the state, because they are not just workers, they buy things, they pay taxes and they pay into Social Security and often they never recover the money they pay into Social Security. In Missouri the number is 26,000.
What role will the consulate play for those undocumented Mexicans if the executive order is not overturned?
We can help with a number of things. We provide documentation — we can get copies of birth certificates, issue ID cards and passports. We have lawyers who can give legal advice, and we have a health window where we can direct people who need a surgery and cannot pay for it to partner hospitals that will perform the surgery for a lower cost or allow the patient to make monthly payments.
We advise people about their rights and also their obligations because the rule of law is the balance between rights and obligations. We tell people, “Don’t get in trouble. If you break the law we cannot help you.”
What conceptions would you like to change about immigration?
There are many stereotypes, no? I think it is important to remember that immigration is related to poverty and the desire for a better life. That is why I like the term “undocumented worker” better than “illegal alien.” Trying to provide for your family should not be treated like a crime — it is an administrative situation.
Another frustration is after 9/11, there was immediately talk about closing the border (to Mexico). And when the terrible situation with ISIS happened, there was talk about closing the border. But the border had nothing to do with those situations.
The border has its own dynamic. One million dollars of trade between Mexico and the United States moves through that border every minute. You can’t shut that down.
We need to think beyond immigration. That is why President Obama and President Pena Nieto are talking about making NAFTA a regional zone of knowledge, not just trade. Let’s exchange students and researchers.
We have recently signed agreements with the University of Kansas and UMKC and Missouri Southern State University in Joplin to exchange students and researchers. That way you spread the knowledge that can lead to more and better jobs in Mexico.
We have set up a network of talented people who have created bilateral programs in various fields. For example there is a strong aerospace industry in Wichita, but what is not known is that there is an important aerospace industry in Mexico. Mexico is manufacturing drones that are used in the United States.
We are currently graduating 100,000 engineers a year in Mexico. That is what we want to send to the world.
Yes, we are tacos, tequila, mariachis and nice places to take a vacation but we are also innovation, entrepreneurs and scientists. That is the new Mexico that is a strong partner to the United States and that can make North America a stronger region that can compete better with the European Union and the Asian-Pacific bloc.