The State Department has been providing tourist visas to elderly Mexicans, through a program called Palomas Mensajeras, meaning Messenger Pigeons, so they can visit their family members who are in the United States illegally, the Washington Post reported. Many have gone years without seeing one another because the illegal aliens who are currently residing in the United States fear they will not be able to get back in if they leave. They lack the necessary travel documents to southern border.
Although the State Department has not fully endorsed the program, government officials in Michoacan, Mexico are working with the Department to secure three-week-long visas for those wanting to visit family members in America.
"National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications. Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. At the same time, we remain committed to facilitating legitimate travel to the United States and building on our rich and historic people-to-people ties between the United States and Mexico," a State Department spokesperson told Townhall. "Every applicant must qualify for a U.S. visa on their own merit, in accordance with U.S. law. All applicants must demonstrate strong ties to Mexico and that they intend to return after a short visit to the United States."
According to WaPo, the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City began holding special interview days for the elderly who “frequently travel in groups to the United States for a variety of reasons including tourism, cultural programs, and to visit friends and family such as U.S. citizen grandchildren.”
"Group scheduling of visa applicants, including elderly visa applicants, is a standard practice at a number of U.S. embassies and consulates all over the world," a State Department spokesperson told Townhall. "In early 2018, the Visa Unit at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City began designating monthly interview days for groups of elderly applicants. These Mexican senior citizens frequently travel in groups to the United States for a variety of reasons including tourism, cultural programs, and to visit friends and family such as U.S. citizen grandchildren. The designated interview days allow elderly applicants to complete the interview process in one business day, eliminating the need for multiple days away from family and home. It also allows the Visa Unit to schedule additional staff to assist elderly applicants with biometric and security screening requirements. Consular officers evaluate visa applications from individuals and groups using the same criteria under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. We regularly conduct validation studies to track compliance and to inform our visa decisions."
The Palomas Mensajeras program, however, is designed exclusively for older Mexicans in Michoacan who have children and grandchildren living illegally in the United States.
Romero León was granted a visa through the program earlier this year to visit three of her six kids who are living in the U.S. illegally. She was part of a 21-person group sent to the Chicago to visit their families. León, however, shared her concerns with WaPo, this biggest one being whether or not this was a trick to apprehend her children.
“That’s what I’m worried about,” she said. “Are they going to use this to arrest them?”
Over the last 30 months Palomas Mensajeras has sent 5,000 people to visit their families in the U.S. The State Department has also started granting 10-year, multiple-entry visas to Michoacanos who are 60 years and older that haven’t been in the U.S. illegally.
“We believe we have between 600,000 and 800,000 undocumented Michoacanos living in the United States, and this program is for them,” José Luis Gutiérrez, the secretary of migration in Michoacan, told WaPo. “It’s a way for us to tell them they’re important to us, that we appreciate the remittances and that we care.”
Similar groups have sprung up in various locations throughout Mexico, including "Heart of Silver” in Zacatecas and “Roots of Puebla” in Puebla.
When the family members come to visit, the illegal alien family members are told not to pick the visitors up at the airport. The reason? They could land themselves in trouble if they're asking for identification. Instead, the visitors are told to list family members and children who are legally residing in the U.S.
According to Gutiérrez, not one person has overstayed his or her travel visa. Another organizer, Joaquín Márquez, did notice another trend though.
“What we’ve seen a lot is that the parents die soon after returning to Mexico,” Márquez said. “It’s like they were living to see their children and grandchildren, and after that, they are ready to pass on.”
There are an estimated 5.4 million undocumented Mexicans in the U.S. with roughly 80 percent of them having lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years, a study from Pew Research Center revealed.
This article has been updated with additional information.