For the past two days, computers, scanners, printers and camera equipment have filled a classroom in the United Presbyterian Church.
The reason: New York’s Mexican consulate-general has set up shop in the church to register Mexican immigrants living in the area for Mexican passports and identification cards, on the grounds that “being able to identify yourself is a basic human right.”
A group of consulate employees, who are based in Manhattan, travel around areas of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut looking to provide Mexican immigrants with some form of identification.
Irma Velez, leader of the traveling group and a Mexico native, describes the crew as the “consulate of gypsies” because of their constant movement.
However, it is not easy to obtain documentation, she said.
The consulate requires a Mexican birth certificate or documentation as proof of Mexican citizenship. Then, applicants must sit down with Velez for a one-on-one interview where she asks questions about their life and attempts to determine what region of the country they are from. She can do this by looking for small differences and nuances in their speech. She says Mexicans speak as many as 12 different dialects and that Spanish as “Americans know it is only for city people.”
Velez says that Mexican immigrants are extremely grateful for this service but they are also accustomed to similar treatment while in their native country.
“We are Mexicans,” she said. “Hospitality is part of our culture.”
Carlos, an Amsterdam resident who was looking to obtain a passport, said the service is much needed. He has been in the United States for nearly 20 years but when his passport expired a few years ago he had no way of identifying himself.
“This gives me a way to prove who I am,” said Carlos, who speaks minimal English and preferred not to give his full name.
Through the registration process, Velez’s team does not ask any questions about how people got to this country or whether they are living here illegally.
“We just want to make sure these people have a way of identifying themselves,” she said. She went on to say that their job is not to get involved in federal immigration policy.
Salvadore Chaidez, a Glens Falls resident, was looking to gain dual citizenship for his 12-year-old daughter, who was born in New York.
“These are very good people,” he said. “I am very grateful they are here.”
The prices for the documentation are quite steep, however. A passport that expires six years from the date it is issued costs over $100. Velez said many of the people signing up for passports have to save and scrape together money, which often can be very difficult.
Usually 300 to 400 people use the services they provide at locations in New Jersey and areas around New York City, according to Velez.
But only about 20 people showed up Wednesday. And by 1 p.m. Thursday, only five had walked through the church’s doors seeking paperwork. Velez said she didn’t think there is a large Mexican immigrant population in the area.
To keep people informed on its whereabouts, the group updates its Twitter and Facebook pages providing the dates, times and locations of their visits.
“This is the 21st century. We don’t need to use bulletins at city halls,” she said. “The Internet spreads the word for us.”
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