Juan Lopez, 30, of Toledo already had spent three hours waiting in lines, having his photo taken, filling out stacks of paperwork, and answering verbal questions about his legal status.
As he and hundreds of other primarily Mexican immigrants sat in the Sofia Quintero Art & Cultural Center on Saturday, waiting to update paperwork that allows them to remain in the United States legally, they were told it would take another two hours to complete the process.
Nobody seemed to mind.
“It’s a shorter time than going to Detroit,” said Mr. Lopez, referring to where the nearest Mexican consulate is located. “It’s very hard to get to Detroit and Chicago because I don’t have a driver’s license. I’d have to find a ride and take a couple of days off work.”
PHOTO GALLERY: Click here for more photos from the consulate's visit
Most people have to travel to immigration offices, which are only located in major metropolitan cities such as Detroit and Chicago, but the consular visit to the Quintero center in Toledo spared Mr. Lopez — and others — that trip.
Consul Juan Solana, who was appointed to oversee Mexico’s Detroit consulate in September, said his goal is to provide more outreach services from Toledo to Cleveland.
Mr. Solana previously served as consul for the Indianapolis office.
“One of our goals is to make it easier for people,” Mr. Solana said. “We need to reach out to people who have needs.”
The consulate visit was arranged by Adelante, the Latino Resource Center of Toledo. It’s the first time the consulate has visited Toledo in more than five years, said Executive Director Guisselle Mendoza.
“A lot of people think our clients don’t want to be accounted for, but they do want their paperwork and identification,” Ms. Mendoza said. “Some of them have had to go five to 10 years without having their paperwork renewed.
“Nobody wants to be stopped and picked up. But they can’t afford to go to Detroit or Chicago.”
Mr. Solana is known for his efforts to improve services and access for immigrants. His office renews Mexican visas, U.S. passports, and other documents that help immigrants maintain legal status in the United States.
He also is an outspoken political advocate for immigrant rights.
Mr. Solana said one of the most serious problems he sees in northwest Ohio is that some local law-enforcement agencies frequently engage in racial profiling and try to enforce federal immigration laws when they do not have the legal authority, training, or knowledge to do so.
Mr. Solana said his office likely will increase its number of lawsuits filed against Ohio law-enforcement agencies in the future.
Several local business also set up informational booths at the Sofia Quintero Center. Those businesses and agencies included Adelante, DiFranco Law Firm, ABLE, Immigration Legal Assistance Program, Nueva Esperanza, and H&R Block.
“It’s just really amazing to see the amount of people being helped today,” said Sue Cuevas, president/CEO of Nueva Esperanza Community Credit Union. “Some people got a photo ID for the first time today and were so excited because they could open up a savings account for the first time.
“It’s so great to see their self-esteem boost up. This took a lot of work by Adelante, but this is what it’s all about.”
Mr. Solana said that by streamlining the process, consulate staff can visit more communities such as Toledo and serve more people in a quicker period. Before visiting Toledo, several agencies such as Adelante advertised the consulate’s visit and began accepting appointments.
People were asked to fill out their paperwork in advance, and Adelante staff reviewed the clients’ forms to make sure the information was correct and complete.
Even with all the preparation, the consulate’s efforts were running about two hours behind by noon Saturday, officials said.
Officially, consulate officials said they would only process the paperwork of the first 200 people who had advance appointments.
By 11 a.m., it was clear that more than 300 people had shown up and were seeking help. People were not turned away if they had the proper paperwork, although they had to wait until those with appointments were served first.
Toledo’s Moises Zargoza, 36, made an appointment. He figured he’d show up early and get in line before the doors opened at 8 a.m., so he could get home quicker. The problem, he said laughing, was the 150 other people who had the same idea.
“It’s worth it,” Mr. Zargoza said as he smiled and shrugged his shoulders. “I’m here to get my passport. It’s an important document because I’m working on legal residency.”
The Mexico City native’s wife and two daughters — ages 2 and 8 months, are American citizens. Mr. Zargoza is afraid to go to the Detroit immigration office after almost being deported 2½ years ago.
“I was driving back from work and had pulled into my driveway when a police officer pulled up behind me,” Mr. Zargoza said. “The officer said I was driving funny and asked for my documents.”
Mr. Zargoza had a valid Mexican driver’s license at the time, which gave him the legal right to drive in the United States. He also had insurance and a “matricula,” a photo identification card issued by the consulate intended to help people cash checks or perform other actions that require photo identification.
But the police officer called the U.S. Border Patrol, which jailed him for 14 days until it could verify all his records and legal status in the country.
Mr. Zargoza said his pleas of innocence were ignored until he obtained a lawyer, and that cost him attorney’s fees along with a police fine that he says he still doesn’t understand.
“I had immigration documents, I have never committed a crime,” Mr. Zargoza said. “I was very scared. My wife was ready to have our first baby and was afraid that they were going to send me to Mexico, and I would never see them again.”
Contact Federico Martinez at: email@example.com or 419-724-6154.