- The Washington Times - Monday, October 24, 2005

WOODBRIDGE, Va. — About 50 immigrants waited for passports yesterday in Woodbridge on the first day of business at the new Salvadoran Consulate, which opened to serve the increasing numbers of Salvadorans settling in Prince William County.

Ruth Guerra, 29, born in El Salvador and living in Woodbridge, applied for an emergency passport at about noon. By 4 p.m., she had been fingerprinted and handed her passport, which she will use to travel to Salvador on Saturday to attend her grandmother’s funeral.

“This is very helpful for me, that I don’t have to go into Washington and can do this right here,” she said. “It’s a good idea to bring it out here. They’ve been very helpful and very kind, too. I did not expect it to be that way. I thought it would be more like the [Department of Motor Vehicles].”

Though not a U.S. citizen, Miss Guerra has lived in the States for 25 years and is a legal immigrant. The Salvadoran passport is her first, and Saturday will mark the first time she has been back to her native country since she left as a toddler.

Consulate services include a traveling office that visits other locations once a month. Salvadorans can use the consulate to obtain passports and photo identification cards, and to register marriages, births and deaths with the Salvadoran government.

Because it deals only with the Salvadoran government, the consulate does not distinguish between legal and illegal aliens.

“We never even ask if they are legal,” said Consul Mirian Etelinda Vargas. “The only thing we do is ask if they are Salvadoran. If they are, we help them.”

Bertha E. de Hernandez, a vice consul who was processing customers in the waiting area, estimated that 95 percent of those who come through the doors are legal immigrants.

Jose Adon Molina Gonzales, 18, waited for more than six hours yesterday to receive a passport to replace the one he lost in Guatemala two years ago. In the country illegally, Mr. Gonzales works in construction in Woodbridge.

“I came today to get a passport for the second time,” he said through a translator. “I have been in this country for two years and one month.”

El Salvador, the smallest country in Central America, is well-represented in Prince William County. From 2000 to 2004, the number of Salvadorans there more than doubled to 10,948.

The 2000 census showed about 40,000 Salvadorans living in Northern Virginia.

The consulate is located in a storefront at 14572 Potomac Mills Road, near the Potomac Mills shopping center.

The facility processed about 100 Salvadorans yesterday, and Miss Vargas expects the crowds to be larger today.

“One reason why the population [in Prince William County] has gone up is because people are buying houses because they are less expensive here and there are jobs here, such as lots of construction jobs,” Miss Vargas said.

The Salvadoran community in the Washington area has opened businesses and established a culture in which the new immigrants feel comfortable, she said.

“Here we have community who has been here for so many years,” Miss Vargas said. “They own businesses, they are involved in the community. You can see it right when you come into the area. We even have a Salvadoran Chamber of Commerce.”

• This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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