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DALLAS — Tucked in the corner of the El Ranchito Mexican restaurant in the Oak Cliff neighborhood, about 50 Mexican American community leaders gathered earlier this month over fajitas while representatives of Mexico’s National Action Party began a get-out-the-vote drive for Mexico’s 2024 presidential election.
The group was led by Marko Cortés, the national president of the center-right party known in Mexico as PAN. He arrived with his campaign posse and was greeted with hugs and a kiss on the cheek as mariachis blared their trumpets in the background. He was accompanied by the former 2018 presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya and Mexico City’s first migrant congressman, Raúl Torres.
Nearly half of all immigrants in Texas — about 2.5 million — are from Mexico, and they represent an enormous pool of potential votes for Mexico’s political parties. All Mexican citizens can vote from abroad in presidential elections, but only a fraction of them have registered to vote in previous elections, and even fewer actually cast ballots in Mexican elections.
Cortés and the other PAN officials see this as an opportunity worth seizing as the party challenges President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s Morena party. In last year’s gubernatorial elections, Morena flipped four states and now holds 20 of Mexico’s 32 state governorships.
At the Dallas event, the party inaugurated its first “Comité Azul de Acción Migrante” — or Blue Committee for Migrant Action — networks of Mexican migrants in the U.S. that encourage others to join the party and help with outreach to voters before the election.
First: Former 2018 presidential candidate Ricardo Anaya addresses leaders of Dallas' Mexican business community at El Ranchito Mexican restaurant in Oak Cliff on Feb. 6, 2023. Last: Raúl Torres (right), Mexico City’s first migrant congressman, receives applause after making a point at the “Comité Azul de Acción Migrante” event. Credit: Jaime Carrero for The Texas Tribune
Nearly 11 million Mexican citizens live outside of the country, and the majority are living in the United States.
“[Mexican migrants] have voting power,” Cortés said, “and the ability to influence and advise their family who lives in Mexico.”
In Texas, “there’s a huge concentration of migrants and that’s why we are here,” said Juan Hernández, the former coordinator of Mexico’s Office for Mexicans Abroad during Vicente Fox’s presidency. Hernández, who also runs the migrant assistance office in Mexico’s Guanajuato state, said that the party is “promoting voting options for Texans who are citizens of Mexico, because they need to be informed of their rights.”
The number of Mexicans eligible to vote in the U.S. has doubled since 2005, a milestone that was widely celebrated in the country’s last presidential election by political leaders, according to Ariel Ruiz Soto, a policy analyst for the Migrant Policy Institute. The nonpartisan think tank is based in Washington, D.C., and tracks immigration data trends worldwide.
In the last Mexican presidential election in 2018, more than 80% of the nearly 182,000 Mexican migrants who voted from abroad were living in the U.S., according to Mexico’s national election agency. Morena won more than half of the votes abroad in that election, while PAN’s support among expat voters decreased for the second straight election.
But despite the support he received from those voters, López Obrador and his party have questioned whether independent agencies like the Federal Electoral Institute — the nonpartisan agency that runs Mexican elections and sets up polling places for Mexicans living abroad — are needed.
López Obrador, who cannot run for reelection under Mexican law, has argued that the Federal Electoral Institute costs the country too much money and has pushed to cut the agency’s budget.
At the Dallas restaurant, adorned with a portrait of the Virgin Mary, colorful papier-mâché decorations and red roses, Cortés addressed his audience in Spanish and warned that the president’s left-wing party is trying to limit the right to vote for Mexicans abroad — calling it “a risk to democracy.”
Hamlet Almaguer, a federal congressman for the Morena party, said the party has advocated for giving voters abroad more options to cast their vote. Almaguer said that the party has close relations with Mexican citizens in the U.S. and that other Morena members of congress continually visit cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.
"It would be very important to engage citizen participation abroad and encourage voting heading toward 2024," he said. "It will be important for our party to create a campaign abroad and guarantee massive participation of Mexicans abroad."
Cortés told the crowd in Dallas that he thinks a 2021 constitutional reform could potentially expand his party’s voter bloc in the U.S. The law guarantees Mexican citizenship — and the right to vote in Mexican elections — to all descendants of Mexican citizens, not just the first generation born outside of Mexico. This means that there will be a bigger pool of voters in the U.S. that could cast their ballot.
In previous elections, Mexican citizens living in the U.S. or other countries could cast absentee ballots only by mail. For state elections, Mexicans living abroad have been allowed to vote electronically using their voter ID cards by logging in to an online system set up by the Federal Electoral Institute that opens around September the year before an election.
The agency still hasn’t decided the voting rules for the 2024 presidential election, but Cesar Ledesma, a secretary at Mexico’s federal voter registry, said it looks like Mexicans abroad will have three options: by mail, electronically and in person at a Mexican consulate or embassy.
“Making voting easier for those abroad gives those who left the country an opportunity to continue to play an active role in taking care of their family and friends left behind,” said Lidice Edith Sanabria, an attendee originally from Cuernavaca, Mexico, who is a member of a group of Mexican women in Dallas-Fort Worth who advocate for women's rights.
Sanabria said a lot of Mexican citizens who live in the U.S. struggle to feel connected to their home country.
Ruiz, the analyst for the Migrant Policy Institute, agreed. “For a long time, many Mexican immigrants in the U.S. have felt isolated from the politics of Mexico despite them having such a significant contribution economically,” he said.
Mexicans living in the U.S. sent a record $58 billion back to Mexico in 2022 — a more than 13% increase from 2021 — according to the Bank of Mexico.
With the huge expansion of potential voters because of the 2021 reforms, PAN is planning more events around the U.S. The party plans to visit and open more migrant action committees in cities where large numbers of Mexican migrants have registered to vote — including Chicago, Los Angeles and New York City — ahead of the presidential elections.
“It may not be that the Mexican population abroad will have a definitive say on the elections for the upcoming presidential cycle,” Ruiz said. “But if we are to improve [outreach abroad] for the future, every step now counts.”
Correction, : A previous version of this story included the incorrect amount of money that Mexican migrants living in the U.S. sent to Mexico in 2022. They sent $58 billion, not $58 million.