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Immigration, Mexico Style, Part Three

Last I wrote, I had my completed immigration application, fee receipt and other documentation in hand and all we had to do was take it back to the immigration office in Cancun.  Little did I know that the office closed at 2:00 p.m. That’s right, their regular business hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. Not only that, it was at this point around 1:30 on a Thursday, and after Friday the office would be closed for two weeks in celebration of Christmas.

“So, it’s just closed for two weeks. Completely closed?” I asked Marco, incredulously.

“Oh yeah. Everything shuts down for Christmas,” he replied nonchalantly.

“But for TWO WEEKS?” I countered, indignantly.

He shrugged his shoulders and turned up his palms as if to say “What do you want me to say?” We would have to go in the morning, as early as possible. I thought of the hordes of people from the first visit, and shuddered at the thought of even more hordes to contend with as we all tried to get our papers filed before the break.

Despite our best efforts, we got there the next morning closer to 9:00. Our 10-year old son Ian Carlo was on Christmas break already, so we dragged him along. The same crew cut rent-a-cop motioned us to take our place in the rows of seats inside (this time we were careful not to cut ourselves on the jagged bases of the chairs). Surprisingly, it seemed not that much more hectic than on our first visit, and we (relatively) quickly found ourselves at the information window. Happily, we got the same young woman that helped us the first time. We turned over all our copies of everything to her for inspection. As she carefully leafed through the papers, you could almost see her mentally ticking items off the list, sorting them into piles. But then all of a sudden she frowned. Oh god, I thought. Now what?

“Your address as listed on the application does not exactly match the address as listed on your proof of address (our water bill). You need to change the address on the application to exactly match it or your application will be denied,” she explained.

We pointed out that the fields didn’t allow for us to list our full address.

“Well, then you need to just list your block number in the field that says street name. Move the street name to the box that says City…” and so on. What? This went against all my anal retentive paralegal principles. “Just make sure it looks exactly like the address that’s listed on the water bill, don’t pay attention to what the fields are labeled as. The cyber café across is right across the street.”

Marco thanked her profusely (this is another strange thing for me in this process: that you have to kiss peoples’ asses to just get them to do their job. “Be a pal”, “Help me out”, “Don’t be mean”: these are all common intros to asking someone just to do their job) and asked if we had to get in line again after we had the corrected form. “No,” she said, “just come back up to the counter.”

“Yay!” Ian Carlo cheered as we left the crowded office, but his joy was short lived when we told him we had to cross the street to the cyber café to correct and print out the new application, then come back. “¡Rayos!” he exclaimed, dejectedly. Darn it!

We crossed both busy streets of the alameda carefully, holding hands. We walked through the mirrored doors of a non-descript office. The cyber café/copy shop was run by a couple of Cuban women whose terse manner belied the “Welcome” sign hanging on the door.  But they knew the drill. I told the woman at the desk what I needed to do, and she directed me to the free computer already set to the immigration website. I rolled the rickety office chair up to the table and pulled out my paperwork again. I thought I would be able to modify my application using my confirmation number, but after fruitless ten minutes spent searching for an “Edit” option, the Cuban woman overheard my conversation with Marco and informed me I’d need to fill out a new application from scratch. Rayos. At least by now it was a familiar process and I had a few tricks up my sleeve.  Mission accomplished, we requested three copies of the new application, and, after waiting 10 minutes for the copy machine to be freed up, we were back on our way to immigration.

“Now what do we have to do?” asked Ian Carlo as we were waiting to cross the busy street. At this point he was probably wishing he had school that day after all.

“Just turn in the application, hijo. It’ll be fast,” Marco assured him, winking at me over his head.

We made our way back up to the front of the line of the information counter, apologetically explaining to everyone glaring at us that the agent had told us we didn’t have to wait again (they seemed unconvinced). This time our application got the seal of approval, and after doing something on the computer and printing out something, she handed it and the printout to me, along with a white laminated card with number 28 printed on it. “Take a seat and wait for them to call your number over there,” the agent told me, waving me towards the crowded main section of rows of seats in the office.

Ian Carlo said he was thirsty and I realized I was too, so I sent the boys out for waters and chuncherías (junk food) as I looked for a place to sit in the crowd. I had no idea how long I would have to wait: there was no sign anywhere indicating what number they were currently serving, and I saw other people had white OR yellow cards with numbers on them. There were four agents in attendance. I looked around to see if there were two other colored cards; maybe each agent had a different assigned color? There I go again, trying to make sense out of the system. I turned my attention to the signs hanging over the counter that read (in English; why?) “Document Reception”, which for some reason, didn’t satisfy the translator in me. Wasn’t “reception” usually used for people, not documents? I tried to think of a better translation. Document Receiving. Meh. Document Submission? Closer…Document Submittal! I smiled triumphantly, then thought wait, is that right? That’s not right. Ever since I’ve moved here, I often experience this strange sensation that my English is fading away, while at the same time my Spanish is not improving. It’s like I can’t find my words in either language. At any rate, if the first counter is labeled Information Desk, what would the logical label be for the desk that receives the applications and supporting documents? Application Processing, ¿qué no?

“¡… 36!”

The guy next to me stood up and jarred me out of my nerdy reverie. I double checked that my card didn’t say 36. There was no loud speaker, and the agents just quickly yelled out the color and number; space out too long and I could miss my turn. “¡Blanco 43!” A white haired man made his way to a different agent. Crap! 43! I hoped I hadn’t missed my turn. Marco and Ian Carlo came back with water and gum for me.

“¡Blanco 28!”

I hurriedly gathered my stuff and the three of us moved as quickly as possible through the many people standing on the sidelines (obviously rent-a-cop guy was falling down on the job here). “Blanco 28!” the surly woman yelled again. We waved our arms at her “Here we are! We’re coming!” we called back to her.

Tripping over the people standing next to the counter, I handed her my number and gave her my best, respectful “Buenas tardes”. Marco sat Ian Carlo down and joined me back at the counter. “Who’s the applicant?” she asked gruffly. I said I was, and Marco helpfully offered that he was the Mexican spouse, and that it was through him I was applying. “You need to take a seat,” she cut him off bluntly, with what I assume was her best sour expression. He gave my hand a quick squeeze as he slipped me his passport, and sat down nearby next to Ian Carlo.

I handed the agent the paper from the information desk clerk, and my application. She glared at them as she leafed through them. “Passport and two copies.” she said, without looking up at me.  I handed her my passport and the two copies. She looked at it, then at me, then reluctantly handed my passport back to me. “Proof of residence, two copies.” I handed those to her. “Original marriage certificate, and copy.” Done and done. At this point, she took a second look at me. Her eyes narrowed. “Original Immigration form and two copies.” This referred to the little piece of paper you get when you enter Mexico; it states how long you are allowed to stay in the country. I put them in her hand. She paused slightly as she took them, looking at me as if to say “What are you trying to pull?” I smiled and waited for the next order. “Mexican citizen’s passport and two copies” I handed them to her. She stood up and had a good look at Marco sitting in the peanut gallery. Apparently he passed muster. She sat back down and handed his passport back to me. “Two copies of Mexican citizen’s Voter Registration Card”. Bam! She seemed disappointed, no, disgruntled, that I had everything in order. “Wait here.” she told me gruffly, and disappeared into a back room.

I took a look around me. Straight ahead, posters on the back office windows warned people of the dangers of using coyotes (human smugglers) to get across the U.S. border; it seemed like the wrong audience. I mean, why would people who were going to try to get into the U.S. illegally be wasting their time and money with the Mexican immigration service?

I became aware of a commotion next to me on my left. A man, clearly Argentinian from his accent and attitude, was attempting to ride roughshod over the agent waiting on him about how he didn’t have time to get everything required before they closed for the two week break. He was a decidedly sketchy looking character in his late 50s, with silver white hair, tanned skin reminiscent of a traditional Mexican tooled leather handbag, and Buddy Holly glasses. Inexplicably, the fingernails of just his right hand were painted silver. “You were able to submit your renewal request three months before your current card expired,” the agent told him stonily, arms crossed over her chest. “It’s not my problem you didn’t do it in time.” You tell him, lady! I thought to myself.

All of a sudden, my lady was back and handing me a piece of paper. “Blah blah blah…” was all I caught her saying. I quickly scanned the paper. It looked like a receipt, with a receipt number, and instructions on how to check the status of my application online. “Excuse me? What was that? So that’s all?” I hurriedly asked her; she was clearly moving on to the next person. “That’s it. You’ll receive an email when you need to turn in your photos and pay the next fee. Have a good day.” She said dismissively. She consulted her clipboard and looked past me out into the crowd. “YELLOW 62!”

Marco, Ian Carlo and I made our way back to the entrance. “Is that all?” Marco asked me. “I think so!” I said. “I think all we have to do now is wait for the email.” We gave each other excited thumbs up as we pushed the doors open.

Outside, the same lady from our first visit was selling drinks and what today looked like sandwiches. Ian Carlo shook his Nerds candy carefully into his hand as we walked back to the car. “Have you guys ever noticed that all offices smell the same?” he asked us absentmindedly as he licked the small candy pebbles off his hand. “They smell like boredom.” He licked the pink and purple stains of his palm, tripping over the uneven sidewalk.

I laughed and thought to myself “And in the case of the Cancun immigration office, boredom and desperation and exhaustion and fear and frustration and hope, among other things.” But all I said was “You said a mouthful, honey. Let’s go grab some tacos.”

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