After nearly six years in Sacramento presiding over 828,000 Mexican immigrants in 24 counties, Mexican Consul General Carlos González Gutiérrez will bring his brand of hands-on diplomacy to Austin, Texas, where he hopes to see Texas build on California’s example.
Most consul generals are rotated out every two to four years, González Gutiérrez said, but there was much to accomplish in California. Pending confirmation by the Mexican Senate, he’s scheduled to start his new appointment in May, when he will be replaced here by Alejandra Garcia Williams, who served as deputy consul general in San Francisco and is now Mexico’s consul in Orange County.
González Gutiérrez made national news in 2011 when he announced that more than 300,000 of California’s undocumented Mexican immigrants had left to find the American Dream south of the border. That trend, which began when the recession dried up construction jobs in 2008, continues, González Gutiérrez said, as Mexico’s middle class and standard of living – including health, education and per capita income – have climbed.
Since he arrived here in 2009, González Gutiérrez has witnessed profound changes in both Mexico and California. Mexico’s economy and civil service grew despite brutal cartel violence – including the mass kidnapping and presumed murders of 43 teaching students last September that sparked protests in Sacramento and beyond and led to the arrest of some 80 suspects, 44 of them police officers.
Meanwhile, California enacted some of the nation’s boldest immigration reforms: (1) AB60 grants driver’s licenses to an estimated 1.4 million undocumented immigrants; (2) California Dream Acts AB 130 and 131 give undocumented students with strong academic records access to financial aid and scholarships at California universities and colleges; (3) AB 4, known as the California Trust Act, reduces the number of deportations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement holds by limiting local law enforcements’ interaction with ICE to undocumented immigrants charged with serious crimes.
“A lot of the credit goes to Carlos and the relationship he built with the Legislature and governor,” said former Sacramento police chief Arturo Venegas.
Sacramento’s Mexican Consulate has also facilitated President Obama’s executive order known as DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – helping more than 178,000 California immigrant youth brought here by their parents apply for work permits.
This week, an array of Sacramento leaders are honoring González Gutiérrez. Tuesday night, he will receive the key to the city from Mayor Kevin Johnson and the City Council. Wednesday, he’ll be feted by the Mexican Cultural Center of California and Cien Amigos, a group of 120 Mexican American entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers, lawyers and community organizers he convened to build bridges between Mexico and California. Thursday, both the California Assembly and Senate will present him resolutions recognizing his service here.
While many foreign consuls deal mainly with travel documents, “he broke the mold because he immediately understood he was Mexico’s representative in the seventh-largest economy in the world and that California’s a trendsetter in public policies that the rest of the nation follows,” said Jim Gonzalez, a former San Francisco supervisor who’s president of Cien Amigos.
“He wanted to bring the community together to discuss Latinos’ low graduation rates, and then started the annual Steps to College and Scholarships program,” Gonzalez said. “He saw access to health care was an issue, so he put in the health information window at the consulate to help immigrants access programs like Covered California. He recognized the struggles of immigrant women, so he created an annual Women’s Leadership Conference, open to all.”
Gonzalez added: “He still found time to hold California Mexico Advocacy Day in May where he became a working member of the Latino Caucus, pushed Gov. Brown to lead a trade mission to Mexico and was one of the architects behind Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto’s visit to Sacramento.”
González Gutiérrez, 50, persuaded the Mexican government to build a $6 million, 33,000-square-foot consular complex in Natomas in 2011 after years of working out of a 9,000-square-foot downtown office. The new facility serves as a community center for forums and conferences. A 28-year diplomat whom Mexico promoted to the rank of ambassador, González Gutiérrez discussed his time in Central and Northern California and the new challenges ahead in Austin.
Q: How does California compare to Texas?
A: There are more Mexican immigrants in California – more than 12,250,000 of Mexican origin compared with about 8 million in Texas – but the percentage is very similar: About a third of each state is of Mexican origin. And Texas, which shares a 1,254-mile border with Mexico, is a greater trading partner. Mexico’s trade with Texas is $200 billion annually compared to $60 billion with California. That gives you a lot of room for working together to cultivate a common future and prosperity on both sides of the border.
While Texas has a very different, more conservative political culture than California, my job is to learn about that and respect it. There will be challenges. Texas believes in and implements the death penalty, which Mexico has consistently opposed, and every so often a Mexican national dies at the hands of the state of Texas.
Another potential area of conflict are the Colorado River water agreements between Texas and Mexico in a time of significant drought.
A third area of concern is former Texas Gov. Perry’s decision to send the National Guard to the border and extend the wall. On the other hand, Texans are very comfortable with Mexicans in the social fabric, and the Mexican flag, along with five others, flies over the Capitol in Austin, which, like Sacramento, is very progressive. Austin is the fastest-growing metropolitan area in the U.S., home to 55,000 students, and is the Silicon Valley of Texas.
Q: How have attitudes toward Mexican immigrants changed since you came to California?
A: I served in the Mexican Consulate in L.A. in 1994 when Prop 187 denied public education to children of undocumented immigrants before it was overturned in federal court. Now the pendulum has moved completely. It has been a great privilege to serve in this state where the Trust Act, driver’s licenses and the state Dream Act were approved, and Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles), a dear friend, was elected president of the California Senate.
California’s going to show the way to the rest of the nation. Before the driver’s license bill passed, the only official photo I.D. immigrants could get was a Mexican passport or consular I.D. We worked closely with the DMV to create an electronic verification system. Before, several counties had a serious impound problem – whenever an undocumented immigrant was pulled over, they would have their car impounded and the fee to get it out was so high it exceeded the value of many cars. I saw very sad cases of immigrants who never came back for their cars that were impounded because they were afraid of the police. Some were in fact deported because of relatively minor traffic infractions. Now they can buy safer cars, because licenses qualify them for credit and insurance.
Undocumented immigrants now feel empowered to cooperate with local law enforcement authorities as witnesses – the licenses remove a lot of distrust. I’ve found the vast majority of undocumented immigrants to be extremely hard-working, law-abiding citizens. That’s what’s so unfortunate about the Luis Enrique Monroy-Bracamontes case (an illegal immigrant who had been deported several times, came back and has been charged in the deaths of two Sacramento area law enforcement officers). We deeply regret the killing of two police officers. We all were affected by that crime. Some people fear the shifting demographics, but Mexican immigrants don’t come from the other side of the moon, and will assimilate just like the Italians and Germans before them.
Q: What are some key memories of your time here?
A: A few months after I arrived … 49 children were killed in a fire at the ABC Day Care Center in Hermosillo, Mexico. A dozen of the most severely burned children were transferred to Sacramento’s Shriners Hospitals for Children. It was very moving to see Shriners respond immediately and offer top-quality care at no cost. Almost all of them survived, and Mexican doctors would come up here for a year or two rotation to learn how to care for young burn victims.
On the other hand, there was a landscaper in Marysville who went to the bank to change his account, only to have the branch manager call the sheriff because he had two Social Security numbers. Even though he’d lived in Marysville for many years, had a family and paid taxes, he was sent to Arizona for deportation until we were able to work with the Mexican Consulate there to get him out.
Some of my best experiences have been with the nearly 4,000 Latinos who have come to our annual University Fairs the first Saturday of February. I remember the first time one of these young “Dreamers” benefited from the advice we gave him to get his DACA card, work permit and Social Security number, then his driver’s license, and finally his college I.D. He told me the whole process started here at the consulate. He will someday get a job, pay taxes and buy a home here.
Call The Bee’s Stephen Magagnini, (916) 321-1072. Pete Basofin contributed.
Comparing Texas and California
Carlos González Gutiérrez, Mexican consul general in Sacramento, is leaving California to serve in Texas. How the two states compare, and other noteworthy statistics:
Trade with Mexico in 2013
▪ Texas imported $101 billion, exported $95 billion.
▪ California imported $24 billion, exported $36.2 million.
▪ Texas: 37.6% Hispanic origin (9,460,921), Mexican origin 7,951,193, Mexican-born 1,658,000 (undocumented 1,310,000)
▪ California: 38.3% Hispanic origin (14,719,327), Mexican origin 12,254,330, Mexican-born 4,232,374 (undocumented 2,190,000)
New California AB 60 driver’s licenses
▪ Since Jan. 2, 25,300 have obtained driver’s licenses.
▪ More than 205,000 have applied and 1.4 million are expected to apply.
Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals in California
As of September 2014, 178,717 Californians who arrived here from Mexico as children had been granted DACA status granting them work permits and temporary relief for possible deportation. Thousands of others have started the application process.
Sources: U.S. Census estimates, Mexican Ministry of Economy, California Immigration Policy Center