My first blog ended up with our exiting the immigration office in Cancun with the instructions on how to file my Mexican residency application in hand. The form itself was to be completed online and technically it was called a Cambio de condición de estancia a residente temporal por vínculo familiar, basically the equivalent of a Family Based Adjustment of Status application in the States.
But first things first: to pay the fee. You don’t pay the fee directly to the immigration office. Instead, they give you a form which you fill out with your name and take to any bank to pay there. We proceeded to the nearest bank, located a couple of blocks from the immigration office, where there was a window dedicated to this process. The line wasn’t too bad, the air conditioning was blasting, and in short time we had paid the fee (cash only) without a hitch and stashed the precious receipt in my bag for safekeeping. Before heading back to Puerto Morelos, we headed across the street to reward ourselves (well, me mostly) for a job well done with a real cup of coffee at Rooster Café. For as much excellent coffee beans as Mexico produces, it can be difficult to find a good, strong cup of coffee.
Due to the fact that our internet connection is notoriously unreliable and that we don’t own a printer, we headed up the way to our friend Victor’s ciber (cyber café) to fill out the actual application and make the necessary copies. It’s a small but clean, well-organized space with 8 monitors available, as well as a place to sit if you bring your own laptop. It’s also a place for the locals to come and shoot the breeze regarding the latest town gossip. Victor’s very involved in community issues including but not limited to: local political hijinks, street dogs and the problems involved with them (sadly, a major problem in Puerto Morelos), urban development, and environmental issues, just to name a few. That day there were two señoras of a certain age loudly holding forth regarding the burning issue of the day as well as several young neighborhood kids playing video games. Victor waved me over absentmindedly to a vacant monitor as he put his animated two cents into the conversation.
I arranged my papers neatly and logged into the Mexican immigration website. Now, I have a lot of experience with the USCIS (U.S. Immigration service) website, and have learned tricks over the years that usually get things to work. But I had no experience with this site, and it was about as user friendly as you’d expect from a government website in any country. When I eventually got to the form, I was shocked at how little information it required. It asked for my name, date of birth, gender, birthdate, civil status, and passport number; all pretty standard stuff. Then it asked for my place of birth, current nationality, my address and phone number in Mexico, and my email address. I thought to myself, this will be a piece of cake!
But between the loud señoras (my husband Marco, unable to help himself and seeing that I was doing fine filling out the form, had also joined in the conversation) and the loud video gamers, I was finding it hard to concentrate. The form kept resetting itself without warning and there was no option to save your information as you worked. The address fields provided didn’t match up with the format of our address (addresses in Mexico include block number, super block number, lot number, in addition to street and house number). I kept getting error messages that I had an incorrect field, but it didn’t tell me which one it was. This went on for a while.
Now, I know that experiencing frustration with computers is nothing uncommon. But for whatever reason, on that day, sweating in the 80% humidity and with my many mosquito and ant bites itching like hell a few days before my first Christmas in Mexico, well, all of a sudden I thought I might lose it. I hadn’t really lost my cool since arriving in Mexico two and half months prior, but all of a sudden, I thought I might just get up and leave. Hop on a bus and ride around town, walk to the OXXO convenience store for a crappy, overly-sweet iced coffee, go home and go to bed, whatever. I just wanted to get the hell away from this stupid form and all the stupid hoops I had to jump through and the loud voices speaking rapid fire Spanish; it was like in the movies, where peoples’ faces and voices appear disfigured and distorted and they’re all taunting and making fun of the protagonist. “You’ll shoot your eye out, Sonia!” “There’s no basement at the Alamo, Sonia!”
I put both feet on the floor and took a couple of deep breaths and closed my eyes to reset myself. Then I called Marco over and asked him to help me figure out a way to make the form accept our address. Between the two of us we finally manage to get to the blessed confirmation page. We printed out my application and two copies, and copies of all the rest of the required documentation, and were on our way back to immigration.
Near hysteria notwithstanding, it was relatively painless process in that it took less than two hours to complete the form and gather the documentation. The same process in the United States has an estimated time burden of over 12 hours, and costs four times as much (not including attorney fees). I thought about how hard this was for me, being in a foreign land, adapting to a new way of life, uncomfortable in the climate, and dealing with a strange bureaucracy in my second language.
Which inevitably led me to thinking about the arduous path of the clients I worked with when I was an immigration law paralegal. Some arrive without literacy or education. Many of them lack the benefit of strong English skills and work backbreaking jobs for little money. Almost all have families depending on them, both in the States and in their home countries. A lot of them have to face impossible choices like either visiting their dying parents or having a chance to someday being able to legalize their immigration status in the U.S. And despite the changing demographics of the United States, almost all of them dark or different enough to draw attention. I follow the political news in immigration in the States right now with despair; just when it seems things can’t get any worse for immigrants, it gets ten times worse than I ever imagined possible.
So, whenever my culture shock reaches its apex, I stroke my blessings one by one like rosary beads: I speak Spanish. I’m educated and have desirable work skills. I can travel back to my home country as often as I can afford it. I’m light-skinned, but being of Mexican-American descent and with my new tan, I can somewhat blend in here. I may be an outsider, but people don’t unabashedly and publicly express their hatred of me. In short, I may be in an uncomfortable spot at the moment, but I still enjoy more acceptance than the majority of immigrants on the planet. Soy dichosa.