Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

The Mexican Consul Must Leave

A Mexican envoy is violating his diplomatic privileges and immunities by leading a partisan political attack against Governor Ron DeSantis and a new Florida anti-human smuggling law.

Credit: Chess Ocampo

It is past time for the U.S. State Department to declare the Mexican Consul Juan Sabines persona non grata and ask him to leave the country for behavior inconsistent with his diplomatic status. Consul in Orlando, Florida, Señor Sabines has clearly crossed a line, publicly denouncing Governor Ron DeSantis and condemning Florida’s new statute criminalizing the transportation of illegal migrants into the state. There should be consequences.

It makes no difference that Sabines is advocating for the rights of an arrested Mexican national, Raquel Lopez Aguilar, who is himself unlawfully in the U.S. and now facing felony charges for transporting illegal migrants into Florida. The recognized consular duties of Sabines include helping Lopez Aguilar hire a lawyer, relaying messages to the accused’s family, and keeping his foreign ministry in Mexico informed on the case. Sabines’s duties definitely do not include going to the press to publicly denounce DeSantis as being “anti-immigrant” and labeling the Florida statute “racist.” His consular immunities and privileges do not entitle him to act as just another open-border Democrat politician in the Florida state legislature.  


Sabines’s rhetoric speaks for itself. The envoy stated before the media: “I ask myself again, could it not have been because [Lopez Aguilar] was brown [that he was arrested]? Because this law is evidently racist. I don't know if what has happened to a Mexican immigrant would have happened to a blond, blue-eyed Argentinian, I highly doubt it.”

Since when are Mexican diplomats allowed to mau-mau the governor and law enforcement authorities in Florida?

Sabines has called the case against Lopez Aguilar a “complete injustice” and complained that the governor has turned down Mexican requests to discuss the new state law, a decision totally within DeSantis’ judgment to make. It reveals incredible nerve that the consul, on instructions from Mexico City, is actually denouncing DeSantis because he is refusing to accommodate the illegal presence and unlawful activities of Mexicans in Florida. Because of this “anti-immigrant” and “racist” policy, according to Sabines, Governor DeSantis is endangering normal relations between Florida and Mexico.

It is acceptable for diplomats to “speak frankly” when they are behind closed doors and privately dealing with host government officials, but they must exercise the highest discretion when they go before the press and speak on social media. The diplomatic immunities and privileges that come with their official position are not a platform to publicly interject themselves into local controversies.   

When I served as an American diplomat abroad, we often delivered forceful, but private, messages to host country officials, particularly when we knew that an American citizen was being improperly detained. But most Americans get arrested abroad under perfectly legitimate local laws, and they are entitled to no special “get out of jail free” card just because they are U.S. citizens. Instead, they must go through the host country’s legal process, which sometimes convicts and sentences them to long prison terms. 


As an American diplomat, I went to prisons to meet with detained U.S. citizens and made sure they had access to lawyers and were not unduly abused while in custody. We kept Washington informed on all arrests, submitted reporting cables describing the cases, and notified family members in the United States. We did not, however, go before the media and publicly interject ourselves into the political situation at hand, openly attacking local authorities. To do so, particularly in a country like the United States where there is basic rule of law in criminal matters, is to become a foreign politician meddling in the host country’s domestic business, which is totally inappropriate behavior for a diplomat. 

Sabines should leave any inflammatory public statements, if they must be issued at all, to the defense attorney that he has arranged to defend Lopez Aguilar; this is the practice consistent with well-established diplomatic norms. Although in most cases the defendant or his family must pay the lawyer fees, Mexican taxpayers are footing the attorney’s bill for Lopez Aguilar because the Mexican president wants to make this Florida matter a cause célèbre

It is no surprise that Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO) is pushing Consul Sabines into Florida’s politics. Most informed Americans are accustomed to regular comments from the Mexican president on how the U.S. should run its business, particularly on how we should treat illegal immigrants. AMLO always insists outsiders respect Mexico’s “national sovereignty”—meaning no criticisms are allowed from foreigners—but American national sovereignty is fair game. 

AMLO constantly interjects himself into U.S. elections, regularly denouncing Republicans and conservatives, and urging Americans (particularly those with Mexican heritage) to vote against them. The Mexican president, who speaks no English and knows little of American constitutional values, traditions, or respect for the rule of law, never hesitates when telling us how to enforce our immigration statutes. 

AMLO has in particular a special vendetta against DeSantis, since the governor actually believes in enforcing U.S. and state laws against clandestine migrants who cross the national border and travel into his state. For AMLO, the effort of DeSantis and American law enforcement authorities to defend national borders or state lines against illegal immigrants is a form of “discrimination.” For the open-border Mexican president, that absurd concept has become the centerpiece in the U.S.-Mexican bilateral relationship.

Despite irresponsible but predictable charges of “racism,” Florida is entirely within its Tenth Amendment state powers to enact statutes to protect its citizens. For example, current laws in many states block illegal migrants from obtaining driver’s licenses or taking work opportunities away from citizens and legal residents. DeSantis has been a leader in implementing E-Verify in Florida. He is showing his fellow governors exactly how to protect American workplaces from unauthorized laborers, who undercut wages and abet unscrupulous employers in evading other legal standards.

Moreover, there is no doubt that state legislatures can authorize governors to interdict the transportation of clandestine migrants across state lines, as Florida has done in enacting the statute that is being used to prosecute Lopez Aguilar. As the governor’s office made clear in a statement that spoke not just for Floridians but for millions of Americans: “In Florida, we will not stand idly by while the federal government abandons its lawful duties to protect our nation. Legislation signed by Governor DeSantis gives Florida the most ambitious anti-illegal immigration laws in the country, fights back against reckless federal government policies, and ensures the Florida taxpayers are not footing the bill for Biden’s Border Crisis.”

Exactly. Americans know the real culprit in the ongoing U.S. national border crisis is not our southern neighbor, not Mexican diplomats, and not even AMLO, no matter how infuriating his rhetorical meddling in U.S. elections can be. The real culprit is our own benighted President Joe Biden and his lawless open-border policies.

AMLO’s well-deployed and capable diplomatic corps in the United States, where Mexico has 53 consulates, should be reporting back to Mexico City on the rising political wave of more and more Americans, including those with Hispanic heritage, who reject the phony charges of “racism” and “discrimination” in immigration enforcement. These Americans recognize that Biden’s lawlessness is at the root of America’s border and illegal immigration debacle. All American citizens, of all races and all heritages, have a right to live in a country with protected and controlled borders. 

Americans are fed up, and many believe there is a coming and justified national backlash. New political leadership will implement security policies that bring about novel U.S. diplomacy in dealing with Mexico, one that will restore, strengthen, and even leverage the border between our countries. Sabines should be cabling that message back to Mexico City for AMLO to ponder.

Mexico’s diplomats are some of the world’s best, and understand perfectly well how to distinguish their role from that of hired defense lawyers. Since Sabines obviously is refusing to make the distinction, he should pay the consequences. The State Department’s Office for Foreign Missions in Washington, D.C. should “PNG” Consul Sabines, revoke his diplomatic visa, and set a deadline for his immediate departure from the United States.