Ruth Castañeda, 36, was the first in line at the Consulate General of Guatemala on Monday morning, waiting for the doors to open at 8 a.m. to start the paperwork for passports for her two children in Guatemala.
Another 12 people waited in line behind her to renew their passports or their consulate identifications.
The new Guatemalan consulate became the 11th in the country and the first in the Carolinas. Until now, Guatemalan residents of North Carolina traveled to the closest consulate in Atlanta or the Embassy of Guatemala in Washington, D.C., to obtain their national documents.
Jorge R. Archila, consul of the Raleigh Guatemalan consulate, greeted people at the door and assisted his staff on opening day.
“We have a big Guatemalan community that are residents in North Carolina,” Archila said. “We think it’s important to have a presence here to be closer to them. They don’t have to risk driving seven hours to Atlanta or five hours to Washington. They can now receive services locally in Raleigh.”
Guatemala becomes the second country to open a full-service consulate in Raleigh; Mexico’s consulate opened in 2000.
The consulate is an extension of the embassy in Washington. It provides consular identification, issues and renews passports and issues visas to U.S. citizens who would like to travel to Guatemala. Like other Guatemalan consulates, the Raleigh office has a lawyer that can give legal advice.
There are about 105,000 Guatemalans living in North and South Carolina, according to estimates from the Morales administration. Raleigh has the highest population of Guatemalans in the state, followed by Charlotte, Archila said. The city’s central geographic location and its proximity to the governing bodies of the state led to the decision of opening an office in Raleigh, he said.
The consulate had its inauguration ceremony Sunday evening, with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales, N.C. Secretary of State Elaine Marshall representing Gov. Roy Cooper and Raleigh city council member David Cox representing Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane.
Cox declared, on behalf of McFarlane, that June 18 would be Guatemala Day in Raleigh.
The Guatemalan minister of foreign relations, Carlos R. Morales, was also on hand. He emphasized the priority of immigration reform for his president’s administration. The 2010 U.S. Census counted about 1 million Guatemalans, but Carlos Morales estimates there are more than 3 million Guatemalans living in the country. More than 80 percent of Guatemala’s population benefits directly or indirectly from the Guatemalans who reside in the U.S., he said.
“Their efforts reach the margins of our villages, the most rural communities,” Carlos Morales said. “In some way, their presence here moves Guatemala’s economy, feeds and clothes many Guatemalans. Guatemala’s migrants are heroes, and they’re not anonymous. They maintain the economy of our country. It’s a shame they had to leave Guatemala because they couldn’t find employment.”
Those 3 million Guatemalans also helped fund the opening of the consulate in Raleigh, Jimmy Morales said.
“Without your contributions, your taxes, your work and the money you send back home, we wouldn’t have the money and resources to open this office,” he said.
Jimmy Morales’ visit was one of three in the last few months as other consulate offices have opened in the U.S., including ones in Oklahoma City in April and Los Angles in June. The Morales administration plans to open 11 more consulates in the U.S. throughout his term as president, starting with one in Seattle.
The Guatemalan consulate, located at 6050 Six Forks Road, will be offering a “mobile consulate” in Charlotte on July 22 and 23, providing its services to Guatemalans living in the Charlotte area.
Camila Molina: 919-829-4638