Lourdes Esteba (left), Department of Documentation, and Marines… (Kim Hairston, BALTIMORE…)
Lines snaked around the gymnasium Saturday at the Friendship Academy in Canton, where about 500 Latino residents received passports, birth certificates or other services offered by the Mexican consulate and Baltimore City.
The mobile consulate event helped recent immigrants in the city obtain documents, as well as legal and health services, without having to travel to the nearest consulate office in Washington.
"Because there is a large population here, we wanted to bring our services here," said Aníbal Gómez Toledo, head of the Mexican consular office in D.C..
"We expected to have 500. We are certainly going to have that number," he said, noting the "large community of Mexican nationals" in Baltimore.
In the past decade, the city's Latino population has grown to about 15,000 residents, or about 3 percent of the total population, largely concentrated around the neighborhoods in Fells Point, Canton and Highlandtown. In the entire state, the Hispanic population has increased by at least 65 percent or about 375,830 since 2000.
After residents checked in at the door, they provided fingerprints, signatures, paperwork and got photos taken at the various folding table stations, while kids darted in between.
Christopher Deiaz, 18, his mother and two younger brothers waited about an hour in line for passports, which was much easier than going to Washington and waiting in much longer lines, he said.
"It's too difficult. The lines are too long," at the Washington consular office, he said, noting that the family had to wait five hours one time.
Besides documents, the event also provided health services such as blood pressure screenings and flu vaccines through the "Me Vacuno" campaign.
"We bring them in and they can try and benefit from the services," while they wait for their documents to be processed, said Catalina Rodriguez, the language access coordinator and Hispanic affairs liaison for the mayor's office.
She said Latinos tend to be one of the groups least likely to get a flu shot because often there is a language barrier, some are concerned about having documents and many aren't used to getting annual flu vaccine.
Attorneys were also available to advise on immigration or other legal issues.
Rodriguez said the city is hoping to have another event in the spring with Central American countries, saying that the city has a number of residents from El Salvador, Ecuador and Honduras, many of whom do not have transportation.
"Transportation can be a constraint for immigrants," she said. "It's easier for services to come to them."