Federal Player fo the Week: America’s gatekeeper in El Salvador

August 22, 2011

At just 26 years old, Vice Consul Navarro R. Moore is America’s gatekeeper in El Salvador, putting out the U.S. embassy’s welcome mat for Salvadorans seeking visas for legitimate entry to the United States, while maintaining a watchful eye for gang members, fraudulent documents and people who enter sham marriages for immigration purposes.

Moore is gratified when he can approve visas for people who want to visit family members living in the U.S. or who need life-saving medical treatment at an American hospital, but also when he can prevent people from illegally smuggling a child to the U.S. or passing off a fake birth certificate.

“We want people to come and see Disney World and enjoy the United States, but at the same time we have to follow the law and protect America and our borders,” Moore said.

Moore oversees three locally employed staff members who assist him as he searches for information and documents that detect and prevent passport and visa fraud. He speaks with as many as 300 to 400 Salvadorans a day, many of whom are intimidated about going to the embassy, and in his short time with them, he tries to put them at ease.

“He is the face of America, the first person, maybe the only person they’ll see,” said Ronald Robinson, a former State Department consul general and a mentor to Moore. “He must do his best to issue visas to those who deserve them and refuse those who can’t get them, in the most diplomatic way.”


(The Partnership for Public Service)

In this first tour of duty, Moore also handles requests for the ambassador, Mari Carmen Aponte, to participate in meetings and events, and prepares her by supplying her with pertinent information and helping with speeches.

While he may have just one foot on the diplomatic ladder’s first rung, Moore already is meeting people in high places. In his first year, Moore helped the ambassador host President Obama and the first lady, as well as Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor.

The president’s visit became a high-level test of the intensive Spanish-language training Moore received in preparation for the El Salvador post.

The president visited Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes in March to discuss the Partnership for Growth, part of the administration’s new approach to development. Moore thought he was responsible only for the welcome ceremony at the “Casa Presidencial”— the Salvadoran equivalent of the White House — a stress-filled assignment that involved checking on seating arrangements, microphones and other small but important details. He was relieved when all went smoothly. “Afterwards, I felt a tremendous weight was lifted off my shoulders.”

But unexpectedly, his day wasn’t over. A last-minute dinner invitation brought him back to the Salvadoran president’s residence, where he helped set up for the intimate state dinner. After high-level visitors were seated, he walked Obama’s staff to the staff dining room, planning to eat and schmooze with his U.S. counterparts.

Instead, he was called to join the dignitaries in the main dining room to translate for the first lady’s chief of staff, who was at a table with the Salvadoran ministers of agriculture and education. “I did that for an hour, helping facilitate and making sure they had a pleasant experience,” Moore said.

Navarro’s brushes with high officialdom can only help with his ultimate goal of becoming an ambassador. People who have worked with him believe he’s off to a good start.

“He’s a rising star,” said Aponte. “Not only is the quality of his work outstanding, and very good consistently and not only does he follow through, but I have also been very impressed by how in his very short tenure at the State Department, he is already mentoring other young people.”

Aponte is doing her part to contribute to Moore’s diplomatic development. At the state dinner, she tapped him to trade places with her, directing him to her seat at the president’s table, between the first lady of the United States and the Salvadoran foreign minister. Moore talked with and translated for his two dinner companions for about 20 minutes. “I’m having an out-of-body experience at this point,” he said, “going from being in the staff dining room to the head table talking to Michelle Obama.”

Moore’s interest in political diplomacy was sparked in 2004 when he interned at the U.S. Embassy in Suva, Fiji’s capital. It was his first overseas trip and it sealed his decision to join the Foreign Service.

He has also interned at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and managed to garner a highly sought-after Thomas R. Pickering Graduate Foreign Affairs Fellowship, working in the State Department’s East-Asia Pacific Bureau. That will serve him well next year when he heads to Canberra, Australia, for his second tour of duty, this time in the embassy’s political section.

This article was jointly prepared by the Partnership for Public Service, a group seeking to enhance the performance of the federal government, and washington.com. Go to www.servicetoamericamedals.org/nominate to nominate a federal employee for a Service to America Medal and http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/fed-player to read about other federal workers who are making a difference.

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