Mexican ‘Mobile Consulate’ Runs Smoothly

Mexican 'mobile consulate' runs smoothly
Wraps up on schedule, in contrast to marathon event last year

By Daniel Connolly
Tuesday, April 1, 2008

A one-day event run by the Mexican government in Memphis this weekend ran smoothly, a sharp contrast from last year's event, when police responded to control a massive and sometimes angry crowd seeking Mexican identity cards and passports.

This time Mexican officials required people to make appointments, rather than the first-come, first-served policy from last year.

People who came without an appointment were served after everyone else, said Andres Chao, head of Mexico's consulate in Little Rock. The office opened last year in response to the region's growing Mexican population.

Last year's event was run by Mexico's consulate in Atlanta.

Mexico and other Latin American countries use mobile consulates to serve countrymen who live in states like Tennessee, which aren't traditional destinations for immigrants.

Mobile consulates usually last a day and offer immigrants the range of services they would receive at permanent consulates, but the focus is usually on issuing identification cards and passports.

Mexico issues documents regardless of an person's immigration status in the United States. Illegal immigrants are especially interested in the documents because they help them open accounts at banks and do other business.

Critics like U.S. Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., have said that by issuing the documents Mexico is helping illegal immigrants establish themselves here and encouraging them to break immigration law.

Mexican consular officials have said the practice is permitted by international treaty, that they're not responsible for illegal immigration, and that their national documents don't grant immigrants legal status in the United States.

Last year, people began lining up hours before the event opened at the offices of social service agency Latino Memphis in Hickory Hill. Consular officials gave appointment numbers Friday evening to people who were already there.

Those people went home, and others came later, thinking they were first. The next morning, the first group arrived with appointment numbers, and some in the crowd became angry.

Police flooded the area, but there were no arrests. The event stretched into the wee hours of the next morning in a process that some in the local Hispanic community called disorganized.

By contrast, this year's event ran close to its scheduled hours, and officials were carting out equipment shortly after 6 p.m. at VISA Inc. on Sycamore View. The business helps people file immigration forms.

They issued a total of 342 matricula consular cards and 75 passports, Chao said. About 25 people were turned away for lack of proper documents, including original birth certificates.

Contact Daniel Connolly at 529-5296.

Mexican Consulate in Little Rock

Address: 3500 South University Avenue, Little Rock, AR 72204

Telephone: 501-372-6933