By Tom Steward |Watchdog Minnesota Bureau

ST. PAUL — As Congress spends August dealing with the nitty-gritty of immigration reform, hundreds of people stream into the Mexican Consulatehere each week to apply for valid ID in anticipation of a breakthrough.

“We receive around 100 people per day, and they line up and present their documents in order to be able to get a (Mexican) passport or consular I.D.,” said Alberto Fierroconsul of Mexico.

“They can also get a power of attorney in order to arrange anything legally in Mexico that they give to a third person or if they’re Mexican and have kids born here, they can begin a process for dual citizenship and get their kids registered as Mexicans.”

An estimated 200,000 Mexicans live in the Minnesota, North and South Dakotaand northern Wisconsin region served by the Consulate in St. Paul. It’s one of 50 Mexican diplomatic offices in the U.S. Although Fierro closely tracks the progress of immigration legislation and must prepare for any outcome, he won’t comment on a bill that recently passed the Senate, or about prospects for reform legislation passing in the House.

“We know that the reform is something that is a U.S. matter that is being discussed in both houses of Congress,” said Fierro. “The Embassy of Mexico continually is in touch with different representatives, and they are the ones that in any case are able to express an opinion. But Mexico has been very, very clear that it understands that the discussion is an internal matter of the United States.”

The diplomat seems resigned to the probability of a border fence, promoted by some groups as a necessary part of an immigration reform deal.

“We do not think that the wall is a way to the best way to go,” said Fierro. “It doesn’t solve necessarily the problem of imbalance between the two economies, but we understand that there are Americans that think the wall makes the U.S. safe.”

Since opening in 2005, the Mexican Consulate has issued an estimated 40,000 Mexican passports and 40,000 consular ID cards. An unknown number of immigrants do not need documentation because they are already U.S. citizens or legal residents. Some 30 percent to 40 percent of those living in the region, however, might be undocumented, here illegally after over-staying their visas or crossing the border into the U.S. in search of work. Most Mexicans in this area work in meat factories, milk production, construction, hospitality and cleaning services, according to Fierro.

“We have been able to get more people and to expand our hours and the amount of people we can serve every day precisely in preparation for a possible reform,” said Fierro. “Because any immigrant that will want to start their process before immigration in the U.S. will need to present a valid document from the (Mexican) state where they come from.”

During a tour for Watchdog Minnesota Bureau, Fierro spoke with several people and families applying for documentation.  The Consulate has the look and feel of a branch office of a major bank with a row of counters, soft lighting and lines for people and families to conduct business. A guard stands at the back, where chairs line a wall for those who may be waiting with children or queued up on busier days, usually Mondays and Fridays. Several younger children played in a side area equipped with toys and kid-sized chairs.

The Consulate encourages younger immigrants who arrived in the U.S. under the age of 16 and were less than 30 years old in June 2012 to apply for a controversial program initiated last year. While not providing permanent lawful status to immigrants, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program temporarily suspends deportation and authorizes people to work in the US.

“We continue promoting that any youngster that can be part of this program should apply now,” said Fierro. “Many before the elections were doubtful because they didn’t know if the program would continue. But if immigration reform passes similar to what has already passed in the Senate, the deferred action kids have a special status, and the process would be a lot quicker.”

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