Paraguay named an undocumented U.S. immigrant to run its consulate in New York, discovering his illegal status only when the man returned home to get his diplomatic papers and was denied a U.S. visa.
Paraguay's foreign ministry acknowledged Wednesday that it was a mistake to name Augusto Noguera as the consulate's "first official," but said President Fernando Lugo annulled the decision as soon as he was informed of the U.S. Embassy's visa denial.
Vice Foreign Minister Manuel Maria Caceres told The Associated Press that the decision to name Noguera as a diplomat Sept. 21 was made in good faith since the ministry didn't know of his legal status in New York.
Despite the visa denial, Noguera tried to return to his wife and three U.S.-born children, ages 10, 9 and 3, by crossing into the U.S. near Tijuana, Mexico, was detained by U.S. officials and is being held in Chula Vista, California, Caceres said.
Paraguay's Los Angeles consul, Ruben Benitez, is arranging legal assistance for Noguera and making sure his family has what it needs. "We are watching closely so that Noguera has a fair process," Caceres said.
Noguera had been in the U.S. for about 17 years, working in construction and becoming a pillar of New York's 20,000-strong Paraguayan community, said Rep. Elvis Balbuena of the Authentic Radical Liberal Party, who had lobbied for Lugo to name Noguera to the post.
Noguera has been active in the party's committee in New York as well as the Centro Paraguayo, a community center in the city's Flushing district. Paraguayans who promised to support Lugo during his presidential campaign wanted Noguera to run the consulate, Baluena told the AP.
Balbuena has called for Lugo to expel the U.S. consular official who denied the visa.
Miguel Acosta, publisher of El Mirador Paraguayo, a monthly newspaper for Paraguayan immigrants in New York, described Noguera as a community and party activist but questioned his qualifications to work in diplomacy.
Acosta said the Lugo administration should have done a better job assessing Noguera's fitness for the job. "The government promised that diplomats would be selected for their abilities," he said.
Dionisio Recalde, a fellow party member in New York, said Noguera's absence from the community would be felt.
"Augusto Noguera was always active in the Paraguayan community, in the Liberal Party and the Centro Paraguayo. Everyone knew him as a community activist," Recalde said.
Associated Press Writer Cristian Salazar in New York contributed to this report.
(This version CORRECTS name to Centro Paraguayo, sted Casa Paraguaya)