Workers lined up outside the U.S. consulate office in Monterrey seeking work visas. (© AP Images)
Angel rides Thoroughbreds, bathes them, feeds them, cares for them when they're sick. He speaks to them in Spanish, sometimes in English if necessary. He works legally in the U.S., thanks to the 4 month work permit he carries.
He returned to Mexico this week to renew his permit, which was due to expire. It's the second time he's done it, the last time was fairly easy, so he expected no problems. He figured he would spend a week staying in his parents' house, visiting family and friends, renew his visa, and return to work by the following Monday. Even though Christmas is coming up, and his brother will arrive to spend the holiday with the family, Angel couldn't afford to stay that long. He was anxious to get back to work.
Early in the morning, Angel went into the city to wait in line for his visa. In the late afternoon, he returned to his parents' house empty handed.
It seems there aren't enough work permits to go around. Angel was applying for his third 4-month visa, and apparently, the people applying for the first time get preference. Come back in a year, they said, and apply again.
"What can I do here for a year? There's no work here, and my job is waiting for me there."
I asked, "So what are you going to do?"
"I'm leaving, Friday or Saturday, so I can be back to work on Monday."
"Leaving, how? How can you return without your permit?"
"There's a guy who can bring me across for dos mil quinientos. Like they do for little children. He says I won't even have to walk."
So... let me get this straight. He was here working legally, just long enough to get settled, acquire stuff of his own, get into the groove of his own routine of work-eat-bathe-sleep. Just long enough to learn his job well, so well that he moved from cleaning stalls to riding racehorses in a matter of months. Just long enough to take the edge off his homesickness, until he had to go back to renew that little 4-month work visa. He had had no troubles with the law. And now -
If he stays in Mexico for a year to wait to re-apply (without any guarantee that he will be approved again) for a visa, he will lose his job. His boss will have to hire someone new, someone lucky enough to have gotten a work visa, or maybe he'll have to hire someone desperate enough to work without one. His boss will have to retrain this new person and hope he's as good with the horses as Angel was. Meanwhile, Angel will try to find work in Mexico, but even so will most likely be a burden instead of a help to his family.
But Angel does not want to burden his mother, and he does not want to lose his job. Instead, he will pay $2500 to be smuggled across the border. If he's caught, he will be processed and will have a criminal record. He will face a ban of 10 years to enter the U.S. legally. He may go to jail.
Or, the smuggler may not keep his promise of a safe ride across the border. He may drop him off just short, make him walk or swim across, and promise to meet him after just a couple hours' walk on the other side. That couple hours' walk could stretch into a couple days, unprepared and without water, in the desert. Or, his safe ride across the border for the bargain price of $2500 could end in a house in an American city where he could be held against his will until he pays more money, more than he had originally agreed to pay.
Dos mil quinientos is a lot of money, hard earned and better spent to help keep his sister in college than to end up in a coyote's pocket. Angel is a good man, has done everything legally up to this point. His family has become dependent on his income, and he has come to love being employed where he is treated well and can live pretty well on what little he keeps of his earnings. No one can imagine how much better that is than the alternative, until you consider all that he is willing to pay and risk for it. Then it becomes a little easier to understand.