Traveling consulate uninterrupted by protest
CONWAY — A mobile Mexican consulate’s visit to St. James Church Sept. 27 drew hundreds of people seeking immigration services. It also sparked protests from local anti-immigration activists.
Members of the Horry County chapter of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps and other local residents protested the consulate’s visit because they believe it helps illegal Hispanic immigrants obtain fake identification.
Officials from the mobile consulate, based in Raleigh, N.C., said they were there to help Mexican nationals receive valid cards, called “matriculas,” that can be used for travel or to prove identification in other situations.
The consulate did not open until 7:30 a.m., but more than 100 people were already lined up outside the church by 6:45 a.m. Large crowds continued to gather throughout the day.
The Minuteman group arrived early. They originally set up across the street from St. James, but had to move after two homeowners said they did not want the protesters in their yards or on a vacant lot nearby that one of them owned.
Lt. Jay Brantly of the Horry County Police Department also told the protesters they did not have permission from the county.
“They don’t have the permission of these homeowners to be on private property, and they can’t hold this protest on public land without a parade permit,” Brantly said. St. James is located on a quiet residential street about half a mile off U.S. Highway 501.
The group of about 20 protesters were upset, but eventually moved several hundred yards down the street to another lot after the homeowner gave them access. They stayed in that location until late afternoon, holding signs with anti-immigration slogans and criticisms of the Catholic Church and St. James for allowing the consulate’s visit.
Michael Visnjic, a leader of the Horry County Minuteman chapter, refused to be interviewed by The Miscellany. He said he disagreed with the Catholic Church over its policies regarding illegal immigrants and other issues.
Many of the protesters refused to give their names. Some said they feared reprisals from pro-Mexican activists.
“I’m protesting the fact that the Mexican consulate is giving out fake IDs,” said Ted Sejda. The protester said he was a Vietnam veteran who originally came from Philadelphia. “These people are using these IDs to get bank accounts and other things illegally. Illegals are overrunning the country.”
Rosa Curto, a Raleigh-based Mexican consul who serves both Carolinas, said the mobile Mexican consulate’s workers were in Conway to issue legal photo ID cards. To receive the matriculas cards, people have to provide original documents such as birth certificates, which are checked against a database of Mexican records, she said. They also need a U.S.-issued ID such as a driver’s license or resident alien card.
“Every year we schedule our visits in areas where there is a large Mexican community,” Curto said. “People can use these cards to prove their nationality. They have an official ID they can show to authorities, and to use to do things like cash a check.”
This was the consulate’s first visit to Horry County this year.
Father ’Rick LaBrecque, pastor at St. James, said they invited the mobile consulate to visit because the church serves such a large Hispanic community. St. James, its mission church in Loris, and areas throughout Georgetown and Horry counties have experienced large influxes of Hispanic residents in recent years.
“We knew it would be a real service to our community,” he said. “This consulate provides people with a universally recognized ID. We mainly wanted to provide a service to our parishioners, but anyone who came for the services is welcome.”
Father LaBrecque said Horry County police notified him in advance about the protest.
The protesters were not permitted on church property, and there were no incidents involving protesters during the day.