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Ventura County

New Consul Promises Changes

Immigration: Fernando Gamboa Rosas seeks to relocate the consulate from the Oxnard bus station and expand services to Mexican citizens in the region.

April 02, 2002|CARRI KARUHN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Fernando Gamboa Rosas started his new job as Mexican consul in Ventura County last week, and already he plans changes for his Oxnard-based office.

By July, Gamboa Rosas expects to relocate the consulate to a larger building that's more visible, handicapped accessible and able to handle a recent surge of immigrants seeking Mexican passports. He also wants to upgrade equipment and hire at least five additional employees to reduce the amount of time it takes to issue a passport.

"This is the new reality," he said. "We have to be more efficient in order to serve the people well."

Gamboa Rosas, 51, took over as Mexican consul on March 26, replacing Luz Elena Bueno Zirion, who left in February to take a diplomatic position in Orlando, Fla.

An architect who specializes in social and rural development, Gamboa Rosas has worked in public service for 25 years, most recently for the secretary of health in Mexico City. He oversees 20 employees at the consulate, which is now in second-floor offices above the downtown Greyhound terminal, at 201 E. 4th St.

Since his arrival, Gamboa Rosas has been meeting with consulate staff members and contacting local government officials, making arrangements to discuss issues important to the Mexican community. His office serves Mexican immigrants mainly in Ventura, Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties.

He has also begun searching for a house in Oxnard, where he will live with his wife, Marian, and his two youngest children, ages 6 and 8, who will arrive when the school year concludes. He has children from a previous marriage, ages 19 and 24, who will remain in Mexico.

Oxnard Mayor Manuel M. Lopez hopes Gamboa Rosas will build on the initiatives supported by his predecessor, particularly in the areas of improved housing, employment and law enforcement.

Bueno Zirion "was really an outstanding person and was able to bridge the different cultures and backgrounds," Lopez said. "I'm sure he'll be able to do that also."

An Advocate for Mexican Citizens

The consulate also encourages tourism to Mexico, issues temporary work visas and educates immigrating Mexican citizens on U.S. laws. It also issues matricula consular cards that Mexican immigrants can use as a primary form of ID to open checking or savings accounts at certain banks.

In addition, the Mexican consul speaks on behalf of the Mexican community. For instance, if a Mexican-born resident with limited English skills is in trouble with the law, the consul often appears with the person in court to act as an interpreter.

Oxnard Police Chief Art Lopez said he hopes the new consul will assist with another concern. Migrant workers often lack proper identification to open bank accounts and fall victim to thieves who steal their cash. Lopez wants more Mexican immigrants establishing bank accounts, especially before the harvest season begins.

"We want [the consulate] to develop an identification card that the banks can use, so we don't have migrant workers ... carrying large sums of money around," the chief said. "They can put it in the bank and have the money transferred and transmitted to Mexico."

Gamboa Rosas plans to distribute fliers and posters to encourage immigrants to get proper identification from the consulate.

The office is already flooded with applicants.

Since Sept. 11, the number of Mexican natives seeking passports and other forms of ID has tripled to 150 per day. Some people wait up to six hours, arriving three hours before the consulate opens at 8 a.m. to be first in line.

On a recent afternoon, about 60 people jammed the small office, waiting for their names to be called. They soothed cranky babies, sat quietly in chairs and formed lines in the hallway.

Helping With Passports an Important Service

Cesar Perez, an auto mechanic from North Hills, arrived at 6 a.m. to obtain a passport for an upcoming meeting with the Immigration and Naturalization Service. By noon, Perez was still waiting. He passed time sipping coffee and chatting with others in line. "It's a long time to wait," said Perez, 42. "That's the only problem."

It normally takes three to four hours to obtain a passport, Gamboa Rosas said. Staff members need to verify names, birth dates and other pertinent information. They also have to make sure all documents submitted by applicants are authentic. Still, he hopes to cut the wait to two hours by enlarging his staff and acquiring new computers and other equipment that helps make passports more difficult to counterfeit.

Six months ago, the Mexican government approved a request by Gamboa Rosas' predecessor to relocate the consulate to a larger building. Two alternate locations in downtown Oxnard are being considered, one an abandoned Woolworth store, the other in a former Bank of America branch.

He said he expects his superiors in Mexico City to make a decision on a new site in coming weeks.

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