September 6, 2008

Mexican Consulate offers weekend services

McALLEN -- Perla Sanchez chuckled softly with embarrassment as she readied herself for the photograph that would open the remittance spigot.

Perhaps taking the photo was awkward. But without the Mexican Consulate-issued identification card, she couldn't open a bank account to transfer money to the family she left 13 years ago in Ciudad Victoria, Tamps., to seek work and a brighter future.

Saturday afternoon, Sanchez was among some 60 other Mexican citizens - and some non-Mexicans - obtaining visas, identification documents, passports and other government-issued documents as part of the Mexican Consulate in McAllen's monthly weekend "journey" for residents of Hidalgo, Brooks and Starr counties.

At the consulate's temporary office at 301 Lindberg Ave., children played while their parents sat patiently in a former doctor's office waiting room. The consulate moved its operations there earlier this summer as its regular location at 600 S. Broadway St. - itself a former doctor's office - undergoes remodeling.

Sanchez overcame her embarrassment at taking the photo and explained that her bank account at Texas State Bank - recently re-branded Compass Bank - had closed due to inactivity and the institution required identification to open a new one. She came to the United States in 1995 and cleans houses.

"I'll do whatever job as long as it's not prostitution," she said in Spanish.

Like thousands of others immigrants, Sanchez sends money back to her family in Mexico, she said.

Remittances to Mexico totaled $13.6 billion for the first seven months of this year, according to the country's central bank.

Orlando Fernandez, 43, and his wife and children were not like the other applicants in the room Saturday.

Sure, they needed to renew their visas, but they don't live in the United States. They came because obtaining such a document in their hometown of Reynosa would be much more time-consuming, Fernandez explained. And with new passport requirements for cross-border travel coming next year, there was little time to spare.

Citizens on both sides of the border will be required to present a passport or border crossing card to enter the United States starting June 1, and the consulate has experienced a spike in applicants for passports and visas in anticipation of the change, consulate spokeswoman Miriam Medel said.

Last year, she said, the consulate collected 25 applications a day on average. Now it averages 50 per day.

The consulate opens it doors on weekends once a month to make it easier for those who work during the week to seek its services, Medel said. The expanded business hours should ease the transition to the more stringent border-crossing identification requirements.

The consulate plans to offer weekend services again on Sept. 28, but at a temporary satellite office in Weslaco. The consulate hosts the "journey" weekend events at different locations throughout the Valley.

"We had all these people in here," Medel said of Saturday's event. "We're happy because it's a first one for this location and it turned out really well."

Sean Gaffney

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