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Opening of Mexican consulate in St. Paul sparks debate over illegal immigrants
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Mexico's consul general for Chicago, Carlos Sada, says the consular presence in the Twin Cities will also strengthen ties between Mexico and Minnesota. (MPR Photo/Marisa Helms)
Mexico plans to open up a consulate in St. Paul sometime in early next year. City, state and Mexican officials made the announcement on Tuesday at the proposed site of the consulate on St. Paul's East Side. They hailed the structure as a new era in Mexico-Minnesota relations.

St. Paul, Minn. — St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly has worked for about two years to bring the Mexican consulate to St. Paul. He greeted a small group attending the consulate announcement with some Spanish that means "yes, We can do it!"

Kelly hails the new consulate as a "portal."

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"To strengthen our business relationship with Mexico and create additional opportunities for our local businesses to increase their trade opportunities with our city, our region, and our state," he said.

The St. Paul consulate will be Mexico's 46th in the United States.

Mexico's consul general for Chicago, Carlos Sada, says the consular presence in the Twin Cities will also strengthen ties between Mexico and Minnesota as neighbors, friends and partners.

"This is what it's all about," he said. "That we are working with the authorities in order to integrate better our communities, in order to make it possible that the Mexican community has better conditions and better opportunities."

There are about 95,000 Mexican immigrants living in Minnesota. Latino buying power in Minnesota has risen from $516 million in 1990 to $3 billion in 2003.

Senators Mark Dayton and Norm Coleman attended the announcement. Coleman said the Mexican citizens who work in the U.S., and send money home are an important part of the Mexican economy.

"And it is in our interest, it is in the interest of this country, to have policies that strengthen economic vitality in Mexico, that strengthen that," he said.

Mexicans living in the United States send an estimated $42 million a day back to Mexico.

Critics of illegal immigration say that money is the main reason the Mexican government has a stake in Mexicans being able to work and live in the U.S. -- legally or illegally.

"Basically their purpose in coming and setting up offices in the United states at this point, is simply to ensure that the illegal aliens that are here from Mexico continue to have their jobs and continue to have full access to American benefits," according to Susan Tully, Midwest director for FAIR, the Federation for American Immigration Reform. "And I don't think anybody needs to kid themselves; that's exactly what they're doing."

Tully says consulates get access for Mexicans by "meddling" with local governments to get businesses and cities to accept the Mexican identification card, called the matricula consular.

City officials in Minneapolis and St. Paul accept the matricula as a legitimate form of identification. Some banks and businesses in Minnesota also accept it. It is not a work permit and cannot be used to get a driver's license, but it can be used to open up a bank account, wire money home, or use for identification with law enforcement.

Tully says the ID affords illegal immigrants legitimacy that she believes they don't deserve.

Claudia Delgado, news director for Lazos Hispanos, a Hispanic publication in the Twin Cities, has a matricula. She says all the immigrants that are here are working for one cause: to make a good living.

"We all pay taxes, we want to work together. We're here not to just take money out of somebody else's pocket; we're here to work and do our best to be here. And I respect there are people that don't like us. That's OK with that. It will be up to me to go and introduce myself and say, 'hey, look at me. I'm human,' you know what I mean?" she said.

The consulate will be housed in St. Paul inside a social services building called CLUES, Chicanos Latinos Unidos en Servicio.

The Mexican government still has to designate funds for the consulate. They hope to have it open by March.

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