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Thursday, May 26, 2005 | Neither the Border Patrol nor the praised self-styled Minutemen will ever catch these illegal aliens because they fly first class. Only first names are used in this column because the people interviewed are living in San Diego illegally.
Since 2001, a wave of Mexican illegal immigrants with light skin, who drive Mercedes and Navigators, buy homes in Coronado, La Jolla and Del Mar, has been steadily arriving. They don’t come for vacations, like they used to. Instead, they come to stay, looking for security and peace of mind.
“We all have family or close friends that have been kidnapped, we waited to see if police could do something, but they themselves are part of the problem, so we left,” says Pepe, who arrived here two years ago with his wife and three children ages 5 to 11.
The older generation stays behind in Mexico, tending to the family business, but sends the kids to safety.
“It’s very hard to move, we were happy in Mexico, but it’s impossible to have peace of mind there today. You need to hire bodyguards; restaurants have security men with watchdogs at the entrance. You are afraid to take the kids to the park. How can one live like that? We are prisoners in our own city … very sad,” says Angelica, who arrived four years ago with husband and kids.
These Mexican families live in clusters with the intent to shelter themselves from the dissonant cultural realities of this foreign country. “We have few American friends because we really don’t understand Americans, they have a different concept of time (always planning ahead leaving little space for spontaneity), of space (privacy) and in general of what is appropriate,” explains Marta, who arrived five years ago.
These immigrants send their children to private schools and use private doctors. They are educated people, they bring in capital and are patrons of the arts. They spend lavishly at restaurants, theaters and the ballet.
Many of the men go back and forth to Mexico. They live in San Diego for 10 days and go back to Mexico for a week to work in the family business. “Its very hard to start a business here, we don’t know the market, we don’t know the right people, no connections like at home, very different rules and ways of competing,” declares a frustrated Roberto who has spent the last four years looking into several options in order to get an investor’s visa.
He also has the pressure from his wife Angelica, who complains that this traveling takes a heavy toll on their family life, and she is demanding that it stop, but at the same time she doesn’t want to lower her family’s lifestyle.
These posh illegal immigrants come in and out of the country with tourist visas. “We would like to become legal, we have talked to lawyers, but there aren’t many options,” explains Rodrigo. “My wife went to the University of California, San Diego the first three years we were here in order to obtain a student visa and not be illegal,” says Rodrigo who has been in San Diego with his family for almost five years.
“I would look for a job to get a visa,” declares Lourdes, but explains, “my husband doesn’t like the idea, and he feels guilty, inadequate as a provider, so he doesn’t let me”.
You need to invest at least $80,000 in a business to get the investors visa (E-1) for a limited time. There is a price tag attached to the different lengths of these investor visas, and they are reviewed every couple of years.
The main problem many of these posh illegal aliens have with the investors’ and other working visas and even with the residency is the fact that if you reside in the United States you are obliged to pay taxes on “your worldwide income.” They don’t like the idea of revealing their income in Mexico, and showing what they pay in taxes there – if they pay at all. Given that taxation is higher in the U.S., they would have to pay more taxes on that Mexican income to the U.S. government.
Mexicans are not used to paying taxes. According to a May 20 article in Reforma, one of the main newspapers, only 23 percent of the people and businesses registered in the Servicio de Administración Tributaria presented their income tax declaration last year.
“Still most people that we know, that think they want to remain in the U.S., are looking for options to legalize their status. No one likes to be an illegal alien,” says Pepe.
“The good thing is that we don’t look ‘Mexican’ so we get some leeway from the ‘Migra’ (migration authorities)” explains the businessman. However, after Sept. 11, things got more difficult according to the interviewees. “I was detained last year for five hours and treated like a criminal. It was horrible,” recounts Pepe.
How ironic that the Mexican elite has to follow in the footsteps of that country’s working classes. I guess that’s the price you pay for a life of privilege in a society with steep social inequality and injustice.
Fay Crevoshay is the communications director of WiLDCOAST, a binational conservation team. She is a Mexican citizen who lives legally in San Diego.