Saturday, August 28, 2004

Some Herndon residents are uneasy about the Salvadoran consul’s scheduled visit today to register immigrants for Salvadoran passports.

“What started my concern about this was that it was on the front page of the Spanish-language press, and no one in the English-speaking world of Herndon knew anything about it,” said Town Council member Ann Null, 46, who saw the notice about passport assistance in the Spanish-language newspaper El Comercio.

“I think that’s divisive,” she said. “It makes us two worlds with a linguistic barrier, which I do see happening in Herndon. A lot of my constituents are concerned about … the Salvadorans’ issuing passports to people who perhaps should not be here.”

Mirian Vargas, vice consul of the Salvadoran Consulate, said she, head consul Carlos Adrian Velasco and consulate staffers will visit Herndon’s neighborhood resource center at the invitation of Mayor Michael O’Reilly. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. today, they will sign up people for the passports and will return in two weeks with the documents, after processing the paperwork at the consulate in Washington.

Miss Vargas said the Salvadoran Consulate has offered the service about every three months in different cities and towns in the Virginia and Maryland suburbs for the past five or six years, but this is the first time the consulate has come to Herndon.

“All Salvadorans have the right to have their passports,” Miss Vargas said. “We are their consulate. We are only doing this to help them, so they don’t have to come to D.C. and miss work.”

Legal and illegal Salvadoran immigrants can apply for the passports.

Consulate staffers expect 200 to 300 people, but they usually turn away about 100 of them because of incomplete documentation. Immigrants who want a Salvadoran passport must have their original birth certificate and a form of photo identification from El Salvador, Miss Vargas said.

“It helps in many things, for any process with immigration, [for people] to get their green card or their work permit. If they want to go to the [Department of Motor Vehicles] to get a license, it helps, too,” she said.

However, Virginia’s Department of Motor Vehicles requires a working visa on a passport to issue a driver’s license.

Mrs. Null said she asked Mr. O’Reilly to have the town’s public information officer, Robin Runser, issue a press release about the passport assistance, but that her request was denied. Neither Mr. O’Reilly nor Ms. Runser returned phone calls Friday.

Mary Ann Cerrick, 64, a bank manager in downtown Herndon who has lived in the Fairfax County town for 35 years, said her discomfort with the passport assistance was caused by her lack of knowledge.

“The situation would probably have had a far better reaction, had the mayor taken the initiative to get the citizens involved and explain it to us, what they’re doing and why they’re doing it,” Mrs. Cerrick said. “It just sounds so bizarre to me. When do people come to town to issue passports? I still don’t understand it. Are these people here illegally, and then we’re going to issue passports?”

Mrs. Cerrick said she did not know whether the passports issued would be U.S. or Salvadoran. Only the U.S. government can issue U.S. passports.

“I wonder whether they have to have any other documentation,” she said. “It starts to get a little scary when they’re issuing passports in the parking lot.”

Herndon, a town of 22,564 residents, has a sizable Hispanic population. In 2000, more than 25 percent of its population was Hispanic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The passport issue highlights a deeper concern in the minds of Herndon residents.

“We’re a cute, semi-historic town with a small town center,” Mrs. Null said. “We could go the direction of a cute, small town with a strong and assimilated middle class, or we could become a sea of hotels catering to [Washington] Dulles International Airport and relying on the cheap labor pool of chamber maids, gardeners and janitors.”

“Where did that come from?” said Darryl C. Smith, Herndon’s vice mayor and a captain on the police force who has worked closely with the town’s Salvadoran community. “In 1954, I would have expected people to be upset about this, but in 2004? It makes me kind of disappointed.

“It’s a great service to this community. I don’t see any negatives,” said Capt. Smith, 54, who has lived in Herndon for 31 years. “This is a welcoming community. I want it to stay that way, and I’m going to work hard to see that happen.”

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