With California’s historic drought evaporating the livelihood of thousands of Mexican migrants, Mexico will start offering them emergency rent assistance, clothing, food and even a plane ticket back home, said the region’s new consul general in her first major media interview.
Alejandra Garcia Williams, a veteran diplomat who’s worked in Paris, Washington and Mexico City, said she has already seen the effects of the drought on farmworkers in Southern California.
“Agricultural workers are the people who are going to be most affected by the drought,” said Williams, whose jurisdiction includes 922,143 Mexican immigrants in 24 Central and Northern California counties. “Some of them would like to return to Mexico – if they have no money, we will give them the money and fly them back.”
Those whose paychecks have dried up and are in financial distress can also get clothes and food from the Mexican government, and if a farmworker dies, the government will send their body back to Mexico and pay for funeral services, Williams said. The career foreign service officer came from Orange County to take over in Sacramento on June 1.
With an extensive background in immigration and human rights, Williams shared her vision for her constituents at her office, where 300 immigrants come in by appointment daily for everything from Mexican identification cards and passports that can be generated in a day to health care screenings.
Mexico has 51 consulates in the U.S. dedicated to the protection of Mexican immigrants and their children, Williams said. Those services include free legal assistance, scholarships and help qualifying for President Obama’s executive order known as DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals – designed to assist more than 178,717 California immigrant youth brought here by their parents to apply for work permits.
“Immigrants aren’t going to have to pay $500 for one hour of legal consultation,” Williams said. “We will accompany them, and we have translators who speak not just Spanish but Mixtec and Trique dialects to help them out.”
Latinos – most of Mexican ancestry – make up the majority in California now, Williams noted, and “we have a strong voice and it’s going to be stronger.”
“Mexican Americans have contributed enormously to California’s economy, and many are sending money back to Mexico and can be a real help to both countries,” she said.
Mexico has offered dual citizenship since 2000, Williams said, and the Mexican government is exploring the idea of allowing Mexicans here to register to vote at the consulate.
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, who knew Williams when she served as consul general in Orange County, gave her a warm although awkward welcome while joking in the Senate about her ability to speak Dutch as well as Spanish and English. He added, “All I can say is, as politely as possible, Alejandra is hot.” Williams said she didn’t take offense and called Moorlach a good friend.
The daughter of a gynecologist and an artist and musician, Williams has both Spanish and English roots and is married to a French engineer. She was educated at Mexico City’s Universidad Iberoamericana and Oxford University, and her family has established several bilingual schools throughout Mexico.
Williams has also served as deputy consul general in San Francisco and chief of the Office of Internal Politics, Human Rights and Legal Affairs at the Mexican Embassy in France, and worked in the Office of Migration and Border Affairs at the Mexican Embassy in Washington, D.C. She’s also worked on human rights, immigration and drug-trafficking issues as the adviser for the coordinator of migration and human rights at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Her passion for education has already come into play with Cien Amigos, a group of about 120 Mexican American entrepreneurs, doctors, teachers and community leaders in the Sacramento region who have partnered with the Mexican government to offer more than 250 scholarships. The awards range from $300 for high school juniors to $1,000 for college students, said Cien Amigos President Jim Gonzalez.
“She’s already helped shake loose contributions from big donors such as Wells Fargo,” Gonzalez said. “The Mexican government gives $90,000 in seed money, and we’ve matched and exceeded it.”
With the U.S.-Mexico bilateral relationship so important, Williams said she backs long-debated comprehensive immigration reform in the U.S., which would help many of the people who fill her office.
“What are you going to do with 12 million undocumented people living here their whole lives,” she asked, “working and paying taxes, who are not criminals?”