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Orange County

El Salvador to Close Its Santa Ana Consulate

Government cites waning need in the Southland, increasing demand elsewhere.

October 09, 2003|Jennifer Mena | Times Staff Writer

The Salvadoran government is closing its consulate in Santa Ana, a decision that has left the local consul and community leaders bewildered because it will force many Salvadorans to travel to Los Angeles for aid.

Government officials in San Salvador said Wednesday there is waning need in Southern California for consular services and increasing demand in other parts of the United States.

The consulate closure in Santa Ana coincides with the opening of an office in Las Vegas, where government officials say demand for service has soared.

But the longtime consul in Santa Ana, Ana Coralia Morot-Gaudry, and civic leaders complained that thousands of people will be inconvenienced by having to travel to the office in Los Angeles, which is already saturated with clients.

"I do not understand the reasoning to close this office," said Morot-Gaudry, who has been reassigned to a post in London. "But these are the orders, and we have to follow them."

Morot-Gaudry was named consul in Santa Ana nine years ago. The consular office has been open 11 years.

"We've heard a lot of complaints. No one understands why this is being done. It doesn't make sense," said Oscar Gil, president of a Salvadoran civic organization, Asociacion San Isidro Cabanas. "A consulate is needed more in Santa Ana than in Las Vegas. We have Salvadorans in Southern California, in San Diego and other areas that will have to lose a day of work to get to Los Angeles."

The Salvadoran government estimates about 35,000 Salvadorans will be served by the Las Vegas office. Currently, 300,000 to 400,000 Salvadorans live in the area south of Los Angeles that has been served by the Santa Ana consulate.

Claudia Quintanilla, a spokesperson for the Salvadoran secretary of foreign relations in San Salvador, said the Santa Ana consulate serves only 300 Salvadorans each month. Demand on the consulate has steadily declined, perhaps because Santa Ana's Salvadorans are older immigrants and perhaps because many already are going to the consulate in Los Angeles, where service is often speedier, Quintanilla said.

But Morot-Gaudry said she helps 2,250 people each month and that the demand has been rising, particularly because Orange County residents do not want to travel to Los Angeles and because her office will send passports in the mail, while the Los Angeles office requires the applicant to return to the office.

The office also helps Salvadoran nationals with visas, Salvadoran pensions, birth certificates and other government documents. Santa Ana city officials said they are concerned about the loss of service and appealed to the Salvadoran government to change its decision.

"We wrote a letter saying, 'Listen, we need this consulate here because of the fact that there are 400,000 Salvadorans here.' We did everything we possibly could," said Councilwoman Alberta Christy.

The closure comes as the Central American country's government faces financial strain. In 1999, the budget for the 11 consulates in the United States was $28 million, but in 2003, that dropped to $22 million.

The Santa Ana office will close Oct. 31, and the Las Vegas office will open the next day. The consulate in Los Angeles will dispatch a mobile consular office to Santa Ana one weekend day each month beginning Nov. 30.

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