The followings guidelines have been developed in response to the Mexican
government's current use and abuse of their immigration laws to aggressively
deport internationals. [Link to statement on deportations.] Zedillo's
strategic and arbitrary use and interpretation of these immigration laws
is aimed at eliminating international observers and human rights works from
Chiapas, to empty the peace camps and eliminate international solidarity
assistance and material aid. The result of this strategy, if it were to
succeed, would be place the Zapatista communities and sympathizers in extreme
risk of attack from the military and paramilitary groups. More and more
refugees would be created, and the impunity now enjoyed by the paramilitary
forces would increase dramatically, causing even greater bloodshed and intimidation.
Many of the following guidelines pertain to a situation that may occur if you are confronted with immigration officials who may initially seek to question you regarding your activities while in Chiapas, though which could lead to a possible expulsion. Given the current strategy of the Mexican government, expulsion is a possibility which each traveler should be prepared to deal with though the actual likelihood that it will happen to you is rather slim. Being prepared, knowing what to do (or how to assist others in this situation) is clearly better than ignorance.
First, it is important to state that whenever possible, individuals should arrange to travel to Chiapas with a organized solidarity group leaving from the U.S. A group which has a specific itinerary and can give you the support you need. Please consult the page containing the up-to-date Caravan, Delegation and Groups travel list. [This would be a link]
1) Before traveling to Chiapas, especially if you are going to travel alone and plan to do any type of solidarity work after you arrive, you should apply for an FM-3 visa at a local Mexican consulate. Traditionally the FM-3 visa had been issued to long term foreign residents and those who would be engaged in work while in Mexico. Now the Mexican government has stated that this visa will also cover other forms of activity, such as international human rights observers - anyone taking part in a peace camp is consider by the Mexican government to be an international observer.
Note: It is likely that the consulate will not grant you this visa. In this event you will enter Mexico and receive a tourist card at the airport, most likely not to exceed 30 days (90 or 120 would have been easily attained at the airport in the past). The tourist card will not give you the protection that the FM-3 visa would provide.
2) Also before traveling to Chiapas you should have some idea of what you plan to do while there. You need to develop certain plans which include contact persons in the states who have some idea of your agenda and who you can call to keep them posted on any changes you make while there. This person at home should be in a position to call the press, local solidarity groups, and your Congressperson in the event that you are detained by authorities while in Mexico. You need to share this number and contact person with organizations in Chiapas (such as Enlace Civil or one of the other organizations listed below) as well as a trusted individual in Chiapas (preferably an attorney, see information below regarding attorneys).
3) Take with you a number of small (passport type) photographs which closely match your current appearance. You will need to present at least one copy to the organization which will provide you with credentials that will enable you to travel and stay at one of the peace camps. You will also want to give a copy of this photograph to another trusted person in Chiapas, someone who is not going to be traveling to a camp, or someone who plans to stay in San Cristobal while you are at the camp. Also make a number of copies of your passport and take them with you (though someone at home should also have a copy of your passport and your airline tickets).
4) If you plan to travel to any of the peace camps you will need the credentials mentioned above, these are given by a number of organizations in Chiapas (see below). Along with a small photograph these organizations require that you also have with you a letter from a peace or human rights group which identifies you as someone who has been active in this work in the States. Make copies of this letter before leaving for Chiapas. (The group which wrote you this letter should also be kept informed of your plans by your point person in the states. They can be most effective in calling and writing members of congress and the press.)
Note: The organizations mentioned below will provide you with the necessary information that will enable you get to the peace camp and link up with other individuals traveling out to the camp. They will inform you as to what supplies you will need to take with you. There advise if good and timely but it does not ensure you that you will not be stopped by immigration at some point, this is always a possibility. Immigration has tended to treat first time "tourist" differently than those who have repeatedly returned to Chiapas. If a first time visitor is brought into immigration the chance of deportation is very slim, though they may issue you a limited exit visa which means that you would have to leave in 5 or 10 days. (Once you have left the country with this type visa you are able to return at any time in the future.) A first time visitor could certainly run the risk of immediate expulsion of their activity was perceived by the Mexican government as directly and seriously breaking the law. (Attempting to block the movement of the military or immigration officials, etc.)
5) While in Mexico you will need to carry on your person your passport, visa, and a list of emergency phone numbers (to include, along with your contacts at home, a lawyer in Chiapas, and the number of the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City, see below).
6) If you are traveling along when you arrive in San Cristobal it is important to contact one of the organizations listed below as soon as you arrive and make them aware of your planned itinerary. It is best that someone always knows where you plan to be, check in with these individuals on a daily basis when in San Cristobal (when you are at one of the peace camps the organization knows of you whereabouts).
Note: It would be best to travel with at least one other person whenever possible. You will make friends quickly in San Cristobal, especially among the other internationals traveling with the same interest.
7) Never get into a car with a Mexican government official without notifying your travel companion(s). Ask where you are being taken and if possible have your friends follow. If they can not follow make sure they have the license plate number of the car. Don't rush, set you own pace as best you can.
8) Always carry with you a notebook and pen. Be prepared to take notes whenever you are questioned. Write down the name of the person questioning you and his or her official position. Keep a record of dates and times.
9) If you are brought in for questioning, especially at the immigration office, you have the right to have an attorney present. You do not have to answer any questions without the presence of an attorney of your choosing. You also have the right to have a translator; a translator of your choosing is important.
Note: Under some conditions, even though you have the right to an attorney and translator of your choosing, immigration may not allow you to make a call. It is important to insist on your rights. If immigration still does not cooperate then you will have to decide if you will go forward with the process. If you choose to do so, only answer those questions which apply to your present stay in Chiapas, be brief and focused. It is important not to lie, but only answer what you choose to answer, and do this truthfully. Do not offer information, and do not give the names of others.
10) Do not sign any summary of your interrogation, especially if it was gained by immigration without your attorney being present, even if the officials say that your signature merely means that you have read the document. You can simple claim that even with their interpreters explaining the document to you you can not fully understand the language and meaning of the statements.
11) If brought in for questioning, you also have the right to call the U.S. Embassy (if your visa was taken from you when in transit or stamped invalid and you are told to report to immigration within 24 hours, be sure to contact your lawyer and the U.S. Embassy before going to the immigration office.)
Note: Again, although you have the "right" to make a call to the U.S. Embassy, it is unlikely that immigration will allow you to place this call. It is always important to insist on your rights, and do so as often as you feel necessary. Keep a record of your demands in your notebook.
In the event that you are expelled you will be able to meet with a vice consul from the U.S. Embassy, generally in the Mexico City airport, just minutes before you leave the country. (The Mexican immigration office arranges this meeting, not you.) The vice consul will do little to actually help you at this time, but they will take down certain information and offer to make any calls for you. They will also ask if you want your name given out to the press - this is generally advised.
12) If you are expelled, the Mexican government pays for your flight out of Mexico into the U.S., though you usually are sent to a city near the Mexican border and far from your home. You should also have with you the name and number of your U.S. travel agent.
13) If you feel there is any chance that you may be expelled you should try to carry with you at all times your camera(s), undeveloped film, photographs, important papers, and a change of cloths. If and when the Mexican immigration authorities decide to expel you it is immediate, you are not given the option to return to your hotel to get your things. If you can, you should have the number of someone in San Cristobal who you can call from the states who could arrange to help you get your things back that would remain in Mexico after your flight out.