History is repeating itself in New Haven, but this time en Espanol.
Almost a century after Italy opened a now-defunct outpost in the Elm City, the South American nation of Ecuador has established a consulate at 1 Church St., meant to relieve overcrowding at its New York City office. The new consulate, which opened its doors two weeks ago, will offer passport services, registrations and legal advice on a range of bureaucratic measures, but it will not issue Ecuadorian National IDs, Consul Patricio Troya said.
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Troya said Ecuador chose New Haven over neighboring cities, such as Bridgeport and Danbury, with larger Ecuadorian populations because of strong community support for the idea, an Ecuadorian Foreign Ministry that supported choosing New Haven and an excellent geographic location to serve the broader region. He said the consulate will serve other nearby states, primarily Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
“The consulate enjoys an excellent relationship with the mayor and his administration and the other institutions of the city,” he said. “We have the support of the people.”
According to the U.S. Census, there are roughly 21,000 Ecuadorians legally residing in Connecticut. Community leaders estimate the same number is here illegally, and that of the total, 8,000 live in New Haven. Troya said his rough estimate of all Ecuadorians in Connecticut is 50,000.
City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Mayorga said the selection process was run entirely by the Ecuadorian community and embassy.
“The city is pleased about anything that helps residents,” she said.
Troya would not say whether the selection of New Haven was in any way related to the controversial Elm City ID card, a form of legally valid identification the city awards to all residents regardless of their immigration status.
“We cannot give a specific view on it,” he said. “We do not want to interfere with internal affairs, but we do think it is something which can help many people.”
Mayor John DeStefano Jr. last Thursday held a rally on the New Haven Green to decry “hate mail” he said the city had received after flying a Mexican flag on the same pole as the American flag in celebration of Mexican Independence day. But Troya said there has been no similar reaction as yet toward the Ecuadorian community or consulate.
Two Ecuadorian residents standing in front of the Consulate on Tuesday, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, called it “good for us.”
The aggressive lobbying of community groups and the growing population they represent were instrumental in bringing the new consulate to the Elm City, Troya said.
“This shows the Ecuadorian community is living in hope, not paralysis,” said Father Jim Manship, pastor at St. Rose of Lima Church in Fair Haven, at the opening of the consulate two weeks ago. The pastor, out of whose church the community group Virgen del Cisne is based, said the opening marked “a culmination, but also a continuation,” the New Haven Independent reported.
The consulate itself, which is still undergoing construction, features a large multi-purpose room with roughly 50 chairs facing a TV screen, all situated in front of a large smiling picture of Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa. Troya said he expects that the office, which will soon have up to nine employees, will be fully operational by as early as next week; current employees are already offering legal counsel to Ecuadorians.
This is the first foreign consulate to open in New Haven since Italy opened its consulate in 1910 to accommodate the surging immigrant population.