fbpx Backlogs in Latin American Consulates Affect Immigrants Applying for BenefitsDocumented
 

Latin American Immigrants Can’t Reach Their Consulates

Immigrants in New York can't make a passport appointment, which is causing setbacks of up to a year for those who need an ID to apply for benefits.

An investigation led by Documented, published in collaboration with Noticias Univision 41, found proof that the consulates of México, Honduras and Colombia in New York have backlogs of months to process ID renewals and give their nationals a passport appointment.  This affects immigrants who were affected by the pandemic and are now trying to apply for public programs like the Excluded Workers Fund and the Emergency Rental Assistance Program

For the past two years, Jorge Paz, 44, has been calling the Honduran consulate in Manhattan to schedule a passport appointment to get his passport. Every time he calls, he encounters the same thing: the Honduran national anthem, followed by the automated message: “We are not available now. Thank you for calling.”

Paz, an asylum seeker from Honduras who has lived in the Bronx since 2018, lost his job as a pre-cook and dishwasher in a restaurant in Manhattan last March. He needs the passport before the applications for the $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund (EWF) go live, which could give up to $15,600 to workers like Paz who lost wages due to the COVID-19 pandemic and were excluded from previous federal relief efforts. 

The EWF works with a point based system, where individuals need to provide a set number of points to qualify for the financial relief. After IDNYC or a state ID, the passport is one of the documents that offers a high amount of points to prove one’s identity. However, to obtain those documents a passport is needed. It also needed to get a Tax ID number (ITIN), another requirement. 

Having a current passport is critical. Not having it could result in less aid for immigrants affected by the delays.

Members of our WhatsApp community have reached out to us with concerns about being unable to renew or apply for passports at the Honduran, Mexican, Colombian and Dominican Republic consulates in New York City. Like Paz, these community members have encountered setbacks as they ready the documentation to apply for benefits. 

Also Read: Know more about our community on WhatsApp

Captured from the website of the Honduran consulate.

For the past month Documented reached out to the Honduran consulate in NYC via phone and email. During the numerous phone calls on different days, we were not able to speak with a representative. Our emails have also gone unanswered. As of the date of publishing, there are no available passport appointments on the consulate’s website.

Also read: ITIN Delays Are Keeping Undocumented Workers From Relief Funds

Long Island resident Armando Gómez, 39, has experienced something similar. He has been calling the consulate since January to get passports for his children who arrived from Honduras in December of 2020. Their passports were taken away by immigration officials  and they were left with no proper identification to show up to a court hearing scheduled for this past March at the immigration court at Federal Plaza. 

Gómez had to reschedule the hearing for June 22nd, a date which he will most likely have to reschedule again. 

“I spoke with three different representatives in Manhattan. I understand the pandemic caused delays, I know they are not bad people… but this is an emergency. They need [the passports] at Federal Plaza,” Gómez said, adding that the representatives have done the bare minimum to accommodate the community. 

During the phone conversation with one of the representatives at the consulate, Gómez explained that he has a letter from the state of NY stating the court hearing was cancelled due to the lack of passports. According to Goméz, the representative apologetically said that she was not able to do anything regarding the matter. 

When Documented went to the Honduran consulate located at 255 W 36th St.,a Honduran native, who chose to remain anonymous, said that she had scheduled a passport appointment for that day, June 15th, back in April. “I called them last year. They said they would call me back, but never did. I had to make an appointment online. It takes ten minutes to do it, but if you don’t have the documents ready you can lose the spot,” she said.      

The problem, as verified by our investigation at the time of publication, is that there are no passport appointments available for the next three months. A crucial time period when applications for certain NY programs require a current passport.

Not One Passport Appointment

The Honduran consulate is not the only consulate that has faced delays. Luis Gallegos, 33, who arrived to New York from Mexico on March 13 of 2020, said that he has seen delays for passports occur since the start of the pandemic. Gallegos, who is a leader at the Red for Pueblos Trasnacionales – a grassroots network of indigenous and rural immigrant groups living in New York City – has closely observed the reopening and the announcements made by the consulate.

“I see the effort made by the mobile consulates that go to streets of the community offering services, but the demand for passports has not been met,” Gallegos said.

He explained that the demand has been higher due to the requirements put forth by the Excluded Workers Fund, which has been a priority for some of the members of the network who are readying their documentation as the application for the fund looms near.

The Mexican government in a press release in May said that certain prime materials were in backorder due to restrictions imposed by the pandemic, but also announced that services involving passports and other documentation in the U.S. would not be affected by it.

However, 40 year old David Serapio from Brooklyn says otherwise. Serapio, who moved from Mexico to the U.S. nineteen years ago, said he saw a lot of upset people at the Mexican consulate when he went in person last month to try to renew his passport. For the past three weeks he has been calling to schedule an appointment without any luck. 

“I need my passport for my ITIN number and to apply for a drivers license,” he said via phone. His work as a carpenter in Brooklyn was affected by the pandemic last year. Serapio said that there were months that he did not work and lost income. 

Documented called the Mexican consulate in Manhattan several times over multiple days, was forwarded to the Mexitel line, where people can schedule appointments, and the line was busy. 

Complaints about delays have also involved the consulates from Colombia as well. 

Alexandra, 48, who preferred to withhold her last name, said that it took her four months, since February, to get an appointment for July. Her passport expired last year in the middle of the pandemic. “I called so many times and they did not answer. So I managed to do it online, which was hard” she said via a phone interview. 

She lost her job at a McDonald’s location in Westchester in October of last year and is five months behind on rent. While Alexandra has enough documentation needed to apply for the rent-relief, the passport will help her meet the requirements for the Excluded Workers Fund applications.

Also read: Emergency Rental Assistance Program: How to Apply

The Response of the Consulates

Documented called the Mexican, Honduran, and Colombian consulates in NYC and were only able to speak with a spokesperson from the Colombian consulate. The spokesperson acknowledged the delays and said that appointments to renew or for new passport applications are not available for dates after August 1st because, starting that day, they will take walk-ins for those services– which is why the website no longer has a passport appointment spot open.

In addition, they added that their offices are working at 75% capacity, and are following guidelines and protocols to ensure the safety of the community. 

When asked about the unanswered phone calls, they stated that they receive approximately 20 calls per minute, which can sometimes be placed on hold as they attend people in person. To mitigate the delays, the consulate will extend hours on Wednesday June 30th, from 2 pm – 7 pm, where they allow walk-ins for processing passports, along with other services.  

“We want to help our community as much as possible, we encourage them to come in during extended hours to get their documents needed. We offer walk-ins for a lot of services. And we have an emergency line so that they can reach us. We respond almost immediately,” they also explained.

As a response, Jorge Islas López, General Consul of Mexico in New York, recognized the high requests for a passport appointment. López indicated that the delay is due to a high demand for passports created by state law that allows undocumented persons to apply for driver’s licenses and by the approval of the funds program for excluded workers.

“We were closed for four months during the start of the pandemic. Every month we used to attend 10,000 people,” added López and said that they are now giving 15,000 monthly appointments, including Saturdays and Sundays.

In addition, he said that people who urgently need a passport, can try to contact the consulate directly, without the need for a passport appointment.

Jessica Canahuati, Consul General of Honduras in NY, responded to this article and said that the demand for appointments was affected by the consulates being closed for four and a half months at the beginning of the pandemic, in addition to the safety protocols implemented by the CDC. “The [appointment] platform opens once a month, at the beginning of the month, and it fills up in three hours. Because the demand is high,” she told Documented in a phone call.

She also said that the consulate has a direct email for those Hondurans who need passports urgently and that they operate sometimes on weekends.

Note: This article was updated to add the response from the Consulate of Honduras, and to modify the extended hours of the Colombian Consulate.

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