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Coronavirus Feature

For Cheaper COVID Treatment, Americans Travel to Mexico

Above: Ciudad Juárez, Mexico entrance as viewed from El Paso, Texas on Sept. 19, 2020. Colloquially known as “puente libre,” the Bridge of the Americas is Ciudad Juárez’s most used entrance from El Paso and it used by many Americans seeking cheaper COVID treatment in Mexico. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

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Waiting in line at the Cordova Bridge to cross from El Paso, Texas to Ciudad Juárez, Mexico and back is an everyday act for many Mexicans and Americans living along the Mexico-U.S. border. The bridge is often congested with cars as people wait up to four hours to cross to go to work, visit family, shop or see their doctor. 

Over 29 million people cross between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso every year, with people coming from as far as Chicago to visit Mexico. During the escalating coronavirus pandemic that has many experts concerned.

Neither the U.S. nor Mexico require any health checks in order to enter each other’s country at the border crossing. While for a time Mexican authorities were taking the temperatures of people who crossed the border in order to curb the spread of the virus, they no longer are doing so.

The Bridge of the Americas that connects the cities of El Paso, Texas and Ciudad Juárez, Mexico on Sept. 19, 2020. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

Today, both El Paso and Ciudad Juárez are COVID-19 hotspots. Both cities are under lockdown and El Paso has the second highest COVID-19 infection rate in the United States. As of October 20, Ciudad Juárez has 10,043 active COVID-19 cases and 992 COVID-related deaths while El Paso has 8,350 active cases and 557 deaths.

To help slow the spread of the virus, the U.S. has restricted border access since March by barring non-U.S. citizens, non-permanent residents and people without a letter from their employer from crossing the border. They have also discouraged people who are allowed to cross from doing so in order to help slow the spread of the virus. On Monday, the head of Ciudad Juárez’s local government asked his country to work with the United States to bar non-Mexican citizens from crossing the border as well.

“Considering that El Paso is one of the cities with the highest number of infections in the entire United States, I am requesting the corresponding authorities to evaluate the restriction of North American visitors for non-essential matters,” Ciudad Juárez Municipal President Armando Cabada Alvídrez said.

Yet for many of the people most impacted by COVID-19 in El Paso crossing the border is a necessity. With health care costs dramatically different in the two countries, each day people from the United States wait hours to cross the border to get tested for COVID-19, purchase medicine or even get hospitalized. 

‘We all had COVID at the same time’

Valeria Terrazas is a 27-year-old American citizen who works in El Paso but lives in Ciudad Juárez with her parents. She works full-time and is in charge of getting groceries and other essential items for the household. When the border restrictions began earlier this year, Terrazas continued to cross between Ciudad Juárez and El Paso border to go to work.

On the morning of July 14 she woke up at her home in Ciudad Juárez feeling light-headed and decided to get a COVID-19 test in El Paso. Two days later her test results came back positive. 

Valeria Terrazas at her home on Sept. 26, 2020 in Ciudad Juárez, México. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

“I barely had any symptoms. I had a little bit of fever and a headache, but I just took some aspirins. The day I started to feel better is when I found out I had COVID. That same day I noticed I lost my sense of smell and taste,” Terrazas said. 

Terrazas self-isolated in her bedroom and continued working from home, but she feared her parents could get infected since they shared a home. Her father, Raul Terrazas, has thrombocytopenia and hypertension, which puts him at high risk for severe infection. Four days after Valeria started feeling sick, her parents began showing symptoms of COVID-19 as well. Her father was initially reluctant to get tested for the virus, but when he couldn’t continue his normal routine he agreed to take the test.

“We all had COVID at the same time. The bright side was that I no longer had to be isolated in my room because everybody else already had it as well,” Terrazas said. 

The family stayed at home and waited until they all tested negative for the virus, Terrazas said.

“My parents wanted to blame me because I was the one going out of the house. But then everyone [else in my family] started getting sick,” Terrazas said.  

Despite the stay-at-home order, Terrazas’ aunts, uncles and cousins who don’t live with her and her parents continued seeing each other. The CDC has warned family gatherings put people at increased risk of COVID-19 infection and such gatherings have driven a surge in COVID cases in places like Chicago.


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Terrazas’ extended family got together for a July 10 dinner party and three days later eight family members started showing symptoms. 

“It turns out I wasn’t the first one who got sick. My aunt was. And she was the one who got the worst symptoms,” Terrazas said. 

Eight people from the Terrazas family tested positive for COVID-19. Her aunt was hospitalized in Ciudad Juárez. Four of them were prescribed Jakavi, also known as Ruxolitinib, a drug typically used to treat high-risk myelofibrosis — an uncommon type of bone marrow cancer. The price for a dose of the drug in Mexico averages around $2,000 USD. 

“We were shocked because it is so expensive. Luckily I didn’t have to take any expensive medicines. I was so lucky,” Terrazas said.

A Borderless Magazine survey of health care providers and pharmacies in both El Paso and Ciudad Juárez found dramatic differences in health care costs between them. While people can get tested for COVID-19 in El Paso for free thanks to a city order, the same test just blocks to the south in Juárez costs between $60 to $200. 

And while a prescription-strength cough medicine like Benzonatate — which is frequently used to treat COVID-19 symptoms — costs an average of $9 in El Paso, it only costs an average of $5.60 in Ciudad Juárez, where it can be purchased over the counter.

Terrazas and her family bought all their medicine in Ciudad Juárez after they started comparing prices with what was available in El Paso. 

Valeria Terrazas, her mother María del Carmen Jáuregui, and father Raul Terrazas at their home on Sept. 26, 2020 in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The family tested positive for COVID-19 at the same time and quarantined together at home. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

Two weeks later, Valeria’s COVID test came back negative and she was able to get back to work. She and her parents had mild symptoms, and the three of them were able to go back to their pre-COVID routine. 

“We were all very lucky. It was actually nice to stay at home together. We really bonded,” Terrazas said. 

‘It Is Hard Not Imagining The Worst’

Brenda Rubio, 23, is an American citizen who lives with her parents in El Paso where she also works as the front desk receptionist at a local pediatric dental clinic on Mesa Street. She contracted COVID-19 from her parents, Ana Moctezuma and Jorge Rubio, who in turn got it from a family member who visited their home. 

Rubio says her parents kept visiting family members despite the city’s stay-at-home order. 

“My mom was still a little bit skeptical about COVID-19, she kept going out of the house. I didn’t go out at all. But we live together so I would see her and my father every day,” Rubio said. 

Rubio’s mother was the first one to get sick. She had severe complications from the infection because she suffers from asthma. 

Rubio’s parents initially considered going to a hospital in Ciudad Juárez for cheaper COVID treatment. Mexican citizens enrolled in Ciudad Juárez’s public healthcare program can typically receive hospital treatment for free. Meanwhile, staying at a hospital in El Paso can cost an average of $4,000 per day. 

Despite the potential to save money, after some research Rubio realized the hospitals south of the border were overcrowded and decided it was probably best to seek treatment in El Paso. Her mother spent three days at the hospital and despite doctors releasing her to go home, she continued to get worse.

Brenda Rubio’s mother, Ana Moctezuma, on her way to the Hospital of Providence on May 12, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. Moctezuma had severe complications from COVID-19 because she suffers from asthma. Photo courtesy of Brenda Rubio

“My dad was the next one to get COVID. He was the one who was taking care of my mom at all times. He had fever for five days before he even considered going to the hospital,” Rubio said.

Rubio’s father was also hospitalized in El Paso and was there for five days. Doctors diagnosed him with both pneumonia and COVID-19.

“It is hard handling a situation like this one. It is hard not imagining the worst. When I drove my parents to the hospital I didn’t really know if it was the last time I would see them,” Rubio said. “I’ve heard so many stories about people who didn’t even have the chance to say goodbye to their loved ones. I was so scared.”

Rubio’s mother ended up spending three days in the hospital, while her father spent five days there. When they were released, they received a bill from the hospital for $2,500. 

“I was shocked, I thought we were going to have to pay way more. When we called and tried to pay, they told us we didn’t have to worry about it. It turns out the State of Texas paid the bill [through the CARES Act] because my parents were in the hospital due to COVID,” Rubio said.

Jorge Rubio arrives at the Hospital of Providence on May 21, 2020 in El Paso, Texas. Rubio was hospitalized in El Paso and stayed there for five days. Doctors diagnosed him with both pneumonia and COVID-19. Photo courtesy of Brenda Rubio

Once they were released from the hospital Rubio was the only one caring for her parents. They were quarantined for a month at home by orders from the El Paso Health Department. Health officials would check in every day on the family’s status.   

“We would order groceries on Walmart delivery and our friends would help us buy medicine,” Rubio said. 

The family’s El Paso doctors prescribed her parents some medicines like Benzonatate. Altogether, the medications the doctor prescribed for her parents ended up costing a total of $60. When these prescriptions ran out, Rubio sought cheaper COVID treatment in Mexico. She asked a friend to buy her the same medicines but in Ciudad Juárez so she wouldn’t have to pay the doctors in El Paso to get a prescription again. 

One week after her parents started feeling better on May 25, Rubio got COVID-19. 

“It was a good thing that I got it a few days later than my parents because they didn’t need me to take care of them anymore. It would have been awful for the three of us to be in bed at the same time,” she said. 

Rubio suffered from symptoms for six days, but she didn’t need to visit the hospital. 


Choosing Between a Healthy Life or Life Without Debt 

While this year has seen an increase in American patients seeking medical care in Mexico, the phenomenon didn’t start with the current coronavirus pandemic.

Jesús Rivera is a 64-year-old general practitioner in Ciudad Juárez. For four years he worked at a Benavides Pharmacy in Ciudad Juárez, where he treated many patients who came from the United States, including places like Chicago.

“A lot of them came not only from El Paso, but also from northern parts of the United States,” Rivera said. “The healthcare system in the United States is very overpriced and inefficient. I guess that’s why they cross the border to get medical assistance.”

Most of his American patients didn’t have medical insurance in the United States, and they came to him to get more affordable care. Rivera now works as a doctor at a factory, but he still receives calls from his former patients living in the United States asking for his help. 

“Our border life consists of purchasing certain things that are cheaper in the U.S., and other things in Mexico,” Rivera explained. “Medicine is definitely cheaper here [in Mexico]. Especially now with the pandemic, people are more desperate to save money.” 

Researchers have reported evidence that patented brand name medications in some other countries tend to be 28 to 42 percent cheaper than the ones being sold in the United States.

So while testing for COVID-19 is more expensive in Ciudad Juárez, a visit to a doctor can be up to ten times cheaper than in the U.S. And in addition to medicines costing less, many of them which are only available for purchase with a prescription in El Paso can be easily bought without one in Ciudad Juárez.  

But the rush of people seeking medicine without a doctor’s prescription in Mexico is causing other problems, according to a joint study by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the University of Pennsylvania.

“In some cases, the ability to purchase brand name drugs without prescriptions may be causing inventories to be depleted in Juárez,” the study’s authors wrote. 

And cheaper COVID treatment is only the most recent cause of medical tourism to Ciudad Juárez. Out of 1,000 people interviewed from both sides of the border, over one-third of adult residents of El Paso reported crossing into Ciudad Juárez to buy medications, according to another study published by the Journal of the National Medical Association in 2009. 

A lack of access to health insurance in the United States was cited as one reason Americans cross into Mexico to buy medications and seek dental and other medical care, the authors wrote. 

Medical assistance is basically free in Mexico, and Americans take advantage of that.” Rivera said. 

Both Terrazas and Rubio were quarantined around the same time; Terrazas in Ciudad Juárez and Rubio in El Paso. A disease that could have cost them a fortune ended up being an affordable bill. But for Rivera, the fact that both women had to consider the price of healthcare at all while being sick with the coronavirus and caring for their families is heartbreaking.

“People shouldn’t have to choose between living a healthy life or a life without debt,” Rivera said. “I guess I wouldn’t have had as many patients if it wasn’t for the people who cross the border, but I can’t imagine what it must be like going through all that trouble just to be healthy. Mexico may not be the best country in many aspects, but at least people here have access to free healthcare.”

 

Editor’s note: All monetary amounts in this article are USD.

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Coronavirus Español Feature

Estadounidenses Continúan Cruzando a México Para Ahorrar en Gastos Médicos

Arriba: La entrada a Ciudad Juárez, México desde El Paso, Texas el 19 de septiembre de 2020. Comúnmente conocido como el “puente libre”, el Puente de las Américas es la entrada más concurrida de El Paso a Ciudad Juárez. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

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Esperar en la línea del Puente Córdova para cruzar de El Paso, Texas a Ciudad Juárez, México y viceversa es algo rutinario para muchos mexicanos y estadounidenses viviendo en la frontera. El puente a menudo está congestionado con automóviles. Las personas llegan a esperar hasta cuatro horas para poder cruzar e ir al trabajo, de compras, visitar familiares, o al doctor.

Cada año, alrededor de 29 millones de personas cruzan entre Ciudad Juárez y El Paso. Con gente que vienen de lugares tan lejos  como Chicago para visitar México. Ahora que la pandemia del coronavirus está al alza, esta situación tiene preocupados a muchos expertos.

Ni los Estados Unidos, ni México tienen ningún tipo de control de salud en los cruces fronterizos. Por un tiempo, las autoridades mexicanas tomaban la temperatura de la gente cruzando la frontera para prevenir el brote del virus. Sin embargo, ya no lo siguen haciendo.

El Puente de las Américas que conecta las ciudades de El Paso, Texas y Ciudad Juárez, México el 19 de septiembre de 2020. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

Hoy en día, tanto El Paso como Ciudad Juárez son puntos rojos de COVID-19. Ambas ciudades están implementando medidas sanitarias mientras El Paso tiene la segunda tasa más alta de infección por COVID-19 de los Estados Unidos. El 20 de Octubre, Ciudad Juárez alcanzó los 10,043 casos activos y 992 muertes relacionadas con COVID-19, mientras El Paso tuvo 8,350 casos activos y 557 muertes.

Para ayudar a frenar el contagio del virus, desde marzo la frontera ha sido restringida por parte de las autoridades estadounidenses. Esta restricción aplica a personas que no son ciudadanos americanos, residentes, y personas que no cuenten con alguna carta laboral que implique que pueden cruzar la frontera. También han disuadido a las personas a las que se les permite cruzar de hacerlo para ayudar a frenar la propagación del virus. El lunes, el presidente municipal de Ciudad Juárez le pidió a su país que trabajara con los Estados Unidos para prohibir que los ciudadanos no mexicanos crucen la frontera.

“Considerando que El Paso es una de las ciudades con mayor número de contagios en todo Estados Unidos, estoy solicitando a las autoridades correspondientes que evalúen la restricción de visitantes norteamericanos para asuntos no esenciales”, dijo Armando Cabada Alvídrez, presidente municipal de Ciudad Juárez.

Sin embargo, para muchas de las personas más afectadas por el COVID-19 en El Paso, cruzar la frontera es una necesidad. Con costos de atención médica drásticamente diferentes entre los dos países, cada día los estadounidenses duran horas cruzando la frontera para hacerse la prueba de COVID-19, comprar medicamentos o incluso ser hospitalizados.

‘Todos Tuvimos COVID al Mismo Tiempo’

Valeria Terrazas es una ciudadana americana de 27 años la cual trabaja en El Paso, pero vive con sus padres en Ciudad Juárez. Ella tiene un trabajo de tiempo completo y está a cargo de llevar el mandado y las cosas esenciales a su casa. Cuando las restricciones en la frontera comenzaron a principios del año, Terrazas continuó cruzando entre Ciudad Juárez y El Paso para ir a trabajar.

La mañana del 14 de julio se despertó en su casa en Ciudad Juárez sintiéndose mareada y decidió hacerse la prueba de COVID-19 en El Paso. Dos días después, los resultados de sus pruebas dieron positivo.

Valeria Terrazas en su casa en Ciudad Juárez, México el 26 de septiembre de 2020. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

“Casi no tuve síntomas. Tuve poquita fiebre y me dolió la cabeza, pero solo me tomé unas aspirinas. El día que me empecé a sentir mejor es cuando me enteré de que tenía COVID. Ese mismo día noté que perdí mi sentido del gusto y del olfato”, dijo Terrazas.

Terrazas se aisló en su habitación y siguió trabajando desde casa, pero temía que sus padres pudieran infectarse ya que viven juntos. Su padre, Raúl Terrazas, tiene trombocitopenia e hipertensión, lo que lo pone en alto riesgo de tener un caso grave. Cuatro días después de que Valeria comenzará a sentirse enferma, sus padres también comenzaron a mostrar síntomas de COVID-19. Su padre estaba renuente a hacerse la prueba del virus, pero cuando no pudo continuar con su rutina normal, accedió a hacerse la prueba.

“Todos tuvimos COVID al mismo tiempo. El lado positivo fue que ya no tuve que estar encerrada en mi cuarto porque ya todos lo teníamos”, dijo Terrazas.

La familia se quedó en casa y esperaron hasta que todos dieron negativo al virus, dijo Terrazas. 

“Mis padres querían echarme la culpa porque yo era la que salía de la casa. Pero luego todos [los demás miembros de mi familia] comenzaron a enfermarse”, dijo Terrazas.

A pesar de la orden de permanecer en casa, los tíos, tías y primos de Terrazas que no viven con ella y sus padres seguían viéndose. El CDC ha advertido que las reuniones familiares ponen a las personas en mayor riesgo contraer COVID-19, tales reuniones han provocado un aumento en los casos de COVID en lugares como Chicago.


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La familia de Terrazas se reunió para una cena el 10 de julio y tres días después, ocho miembros de la familia comenzaron a mostrar síntomas.

“Resulta que no fui la primera que se enfermó. Fue mi tía. Y ella fue la que tuvo los peores síntomas”, dijo Terrazas.

Ocho miembros de la familia Terrazas salieron positivos a COVID-19. Su tía fue hospitalizada en Ciudad Juárez. A cuatro de ellos les recetaron Jakavi, también conocido como Ruxolitinib, un medicamento que usualmente es usado para tratar la mielofibrosis de alto riesgo, un tipo de cáncer de médula ósea poco común. El precio de una dosis en México ronda entre los $2,000 USD.

“Nos sorprendió porque es muy caro. Por suerte no tuve que tomar medicinas caras. Tuve mucha suerte”, dijo Terrazas.

Una encuesta de Borderless Magazine entre proveedores de atención médica y farmacias tanto en El Paso como en Ciudad Juárez encontró diferencias drásticas en los costos de atención médica. Si bien las personas pueden hacerse la prueba de COVID-19 en El Paso de forma gratuita gracias a una orden de la ciudad, la misma prueba a solo unas cuadras al sur de Ciudad Juárez cuesta entre $60 y $200.

Y mientras que un medicamento para la tos con receta médica como el benzonatato, que se usa con frecuencia para tratar los síntomas del COVID-19, cuesta un promedio de $9 en El Paso, solo cuesta un promedio de $5.60 en Ciudad Juárez, donde se puede comprar sin receta.

Terrazas y su familia compraron todos sus medicamentos en Ciudad Juárez después de que empezaron a comparar los precios con los de El Paso.

Valeria Terrazas, su madre María del Carmen Jáuregui, y su padre Raúl Terrazas en su casa en Ciudad Juárez, México el 26 de septiembre de 2020. Su familia dio positivo a COVID-19 e hicieron su cuarentena al mismo tiempo. Claudia Hernández/Borderless Magazine

Dos semanas después, la prueba de COVID de Valeria resultó negativa y pudo volver al trabajo. Ella y sus padres tuvieron síntomas leves y los tres pudieron volver a su rutina pre-COVID.

“Todos tuvimos mucha suerte. De hecho, fue muy agradable estar juntos en casa. Realmente nos unió”, dijo Terrazas.

‘Es Difícil No Imaginarse Lo Peor’

Brenda Rubio, de 23 años, es una ciudadana estadounidense que vive con sus padres en El Paso, donde también trabaja como recepcionista en una clínica dental pediátrica local en Mesa Street. Ella contrajo COVID-19 de sus padres, Ana Moctezuma y Jorge Rubio, quienes a su vez lo contrajeron de un familiar que visitó su casa.

Rubio dice que sus padres siguieron visitando a sus familiares a pesar de la orden de la ciudad de quedarse en casa.

“Mi mama era un poco escéptica del COVID-19, seguía saliendo de la casa. Yo no salía para nada. Pero vivimos juntos y veía a mis papás a diario”, dijo Rubio.

La mama de rubio fue la primera en enfermarse. Ella tuvo muchas complicaciones porque sufre de asma.

Los padres de Rubio consideraron ir al hospital en Ciudad Juárez porque era más barato. Los ciudadanos mexicanos que son parte del programa de atención de salud pública califican para recibir atención médica gratuita. Mientras tanto, ir a un hospital en El Paso puede costar un promedio de $4,000 por día.

A pesar de la oportunidad de ahorrar dinero, después de algunas investigaciones, Rubio se dio cuenta de que los hospitales al sur de la frontera estaban saturados y decidió que probablemente era mejor quedarse en El Paso. Su madre pasó tres días en el hospital y, a pesar de que los médicos la dejaron ir a casa, siguió empeorando.

La madre de Brenda Rubio, Ana Moctezuma, en camino al Hospital de Providence el 12 de mayo de 2020 en El Paso, Texas. Moctezuma tuvo complicaciones graves de COVID-19 debido a que sufre de asma. Foto cortesía de Brenda Rubio

“El próximo que le dio COVID fue a mi papá. Él era el que estaba cuidando a mi mama a todas horas. Tuvo fiebre por cinco días antes de siquiera considerar ir al hospital”, dijo Rubio.

El padre de Rubio también fue hospitalizado en El Paso y estuvo ahí por cinco días. Los doctores lo diagnosticaron con neumonía y COVID-19.

“Es difícil tratar con una situación como esta. Es difícil no imaginarse lo peor. Cuando llevé a mis papás al hospital en verdad no sabía si era la última vez que los iba a ver”, dijo Rubio. “He escuchado tantas historias de personas que ni siquiera tuvieron la oportunidad de despedirse de sus seres queridos. Estaba muy asustada”.

La madre de Rubio estuvo en el hospital tres días, mientras su padre estuvo ahí por cinco días. Cuando fueron dados de alta, recibieron una factura del hospital de $2,500.

“Estaba en shock, creí que íbamos a tener que pagar más. Cuando marqué para intentar pagar, nos dijeron que no nos teníamos que preocupar por eso. Resulta que el estado de Texas pagó la cuenta [a través de la ley CARES] porque mis papás habían sido internados a causa del COVID”, dijo Rubio.

Jorge Rubio llega al Hospital de Providence en El Paso, Texas el 21 de mayo de 2020. Rubio fue hospitalizado en El Paso y estuvo internado por cinco días. Los doctores lo diagnosticaron con neumonía y COVID-19. Foto cortesía de Brenda Rubio

Una vez que fueron dados de alta, Rubio era la única cuidando de sus padres. Ellos estuvieron en cuarentena por un mes bajo las órdenes del Departamento de Salud de El Paso. Los funcionarios de salud verificaron el estado de la familia diariamente.

“Ordenamos mandado en la entrega a domicilio de Wal-Mart y nuestros amigos nos ayudaron a comprar la medicina”, dijo Rubio.

Los doctores de El Paso les recetaron a sus padres medicina como Benzonatato. Todo junto con las medicinas recetadas por los doctores les terminaron costando un total de $60. Cuando se les terminó la medicina, Rubio le pidió a un amigo que le comprara las medicinas en Ciudad Juárez para que no tuviera que pagar por otra receta médica. 

El 25 de mayo, una semana después de que sus padres comenzarán a sentirse mejor, Rubio contrajo COVID-19.

“Fue bueno que me dio unos días después que a mis papás porque ya no necesitaban que los cuidara. Hubiera sido horrible que los tres estuviéramos en cama al mismo tiempo”, dijo Rubio.

Rubio tuvo síntomas por seis días, pero no requirió ir al hospital.

Escoger entre vivir una vida sin enfermedades o una vida sin deudas

Si bien este año se ha visto un aumento en los pacientes estadounidenses que buscan atención médica en México, este fenómeno no comenzó con la actual pandemia de coronavirus.

Jesús Rivera es un médico general de 64 años que reside en Ciudad Juárez. El trabajó en una Farmacia Benavides por cuatro años, donde trató a muchos pacientes que venían de los Estados Unidos, incluyendo de lugares como Chicago.

“Muchos venían no solo de El Paso, también de otras partes más al norte de los Estados Unidos”, dijo Rivera. “El sistema médico en los Estados Unidos es muy caro e ineficiente. Creo que por eso cruzan la frontera para tratar sus enfermedades.”

La mayoría de sus pacientes estadounidenses no tenían seguro médico en los Estados Unidos, y lo visitaban para poder recibir atención médica accesible. Hoy en día, Rivera trabaja como médico en una fábrica, pero sigue recibiendo llamadas de sus pacientes estadounidenses pidiéndole consulta.

“Nuestra vida fronteriza consiste en comprar ciertas cosas que están más baratas en los Estados Unidos, y otras en México”, explicó Rivera. “La medicina definitivamente es más barata aquí [en México]. Especialmente ahora con la pandemia, la gente está desesperada intentando ahorrar dinero.”

Algunos investigadores han reportado evidencia de que los medicamentos de marca patentados en algunos otros países tienden a ser entre un 28 y un 42 por ciento más baratos que los que se venden en los Estados Unidos.

Entonces, si bien la prueba de COVID-19 es más costosa en Ciudad Juárez, una visita al médico puede ser hasta diez veces más barata que en los Estados Unidos. Y además de que los medicamentos cuestan menos, muchos de ellos solo están disponibles para comprar con receta en El Paso, mientras en Ciudad Juárez no la requieren. 

Pero la avalancha de personas que buscan medicamentos sin receta médica en México está causando otros problemas, según un estudio conjunto del Departamento de Salud y Servicios Humanos de Estados Unidos y la Universidad de Pensilvania.

 “En algunos casos, la posibilidad de comprar medicamentos de marca sin receta médica puede estar provocando que se agoten los inventarios en Juárez”, escribieron los autores del estudio. 

Y COVID-19 es solo la causa más reciente de turismo médico en Ciudad Juárez. De 1,000 personas entrevistadas de ambos lados de la frontera, más de un tercio de los residentes adultos de El Paso informaron haber cruzado a Ciudad Juárez para comprar medicamentos, según otro estudio publicado por el Journal of the National Medical Association en 2009.

La falta de acceso a un seguro médico en Estados Unidos fue citada como una de las razones por las que los estadounidenses cruzan a México para comprar medicamentos, buscar atención dental y de otro tipo, escribieron los autores.

“La asistencia médica es prácticamente gratis en México, y los gringos aprovechan eso”, dijo Rivera.

Tanto Terrazas como Rubio fueron puestas en cuarentena aproximadamente al mismo tiempo; Terrazas en Ciudad Juárez y Rubio en El Paso. Una enfermedad que podría haberles costado una fortuna terminó siendo una factura accesible. Pero para Rivera, el hecho de que ambas tuvieran que considerar el precio de la atención médica mientras estaban enfermas con el coronavirus y cuidaban a sus familiares es desgarrador.

“La gente no debería tener que escoger entre vivir una vida sin enfermedades o una vida sin deudas,” dijo Rivera.

“Creo que no hubiera tenido tantos pacientes si no fuera por la gente que cruza la frontera, pero no me puedo ni imaginar lo que es tener que batallar tanto para estar sano. Puede que México no sea el mejor país en muchos aspectos, pero al menos la gente de aquí tiene acceso a atención médica gratuita.”

 

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Categories
Essay Race

Omani? Indian? American? How to Navigate a Triple Identity

Above: Kartik Ramkumar on Aug. 26, 2020 in his Logan Square neighborhood in Chicago, Ill. Michelle Kanaar/Borderless Magazine

Recently someone I had just met asked me, “What is your nationality?”

“It depends on how you define it,” I answered.

Is citizenship tied to your country of birth? The country where your parents are from? Or the country that you live in? If the answer to all these questions is “yes,” then I am Omani Indian American. Let’s call it OIA for short.

Here is how my identity came to be: I was born in the Middle Eastern country of Oman. My parents were born in India. We moved to the United States in 2003, and I became an American citizen 12 years later.  Like countless others, I am a product of economic migration.

For years, I struggled to define myself. My parents and family friends don’t consider me “truly” Indian because I have lived in the United States for the majority of my life; my values and actions are, as they say, “too American.” My Middle Eastern friends don’t consider me “truly” Omani because my parents are immigrants and don’t practice Islam. To many Americans, I am not considered “truly” American because I was not born in this country, did not receive my citizenship until I was in my 20s, and still have considerable ties to my Indian heritage. I belong to so many different and varied communities; yet, I often feel like an outsider in all of them.


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I’ve long wondered, whether I need a new way of describing myself. Filling out the census this year, I realized I had an opportunity to create my own term to embrace all aspects of my identity. Thus, the label of OIA was born. 

Although in some ways reductive—as all labels inherently are—I thought it would be a term to quickly describe myself to others. I anticipated my friends, family members, and new acquaintances responding with support and interest. But the reality was much different. People were either confused that I was one person carrying three national identities, or they were simply ambivalent. Once, I met another person who shared my background, but they met my eagerness to discuss our experiences with indifference. They had not explored their Omani identity at all; they identify as simply American.

These interactions brought back questions I have had on the back burner: Should I try to represent all three cultures? Should I pay more heed to the forces—such as family, friends, and religion—that have conditioned me to feel like I have a greater claim to Indian and American identities? As I sought to understand myself, I realized I had  to fight these often-overpowering forces to fully understand and own my OIA identity. 

Quarantine has also given me time for self-reflection. Although challenging, these last few months have distanced me from the usual external pressures to fit others’ expectations. During this time, I’ve started to shape my own version of my identity that I alone want to express. 

To embrace my Omani identity, I began learning Arabic and briefly fasted for Ramadan. To embrace my Indian identity, I celebrated Hindu festivals like Diwali and Holi, watched Bollywood movies on Netflix, and tried my hand at making traditional dishes from my ancestral home of South India. To embrace my American identity, I started campaigning with a South Asian American organization focused on outreach and education on filling out the census and registering to vote. 

While I have so far found somewhat superficial ways to explore and express each of my identities, I continue to struggle with understanding how they come together to form a whole. My goal was to combine these identities into one that I feel comfortable in and can call my own. In a way, I feel selfish about this longing. But “OIA” represents my individual journey around the world and my eventual settling in a nation made up of immigrants.

This year, as the United States places further restrictions on immigration and visa access, I am even more grateful for my citizenship status in this country and my freedom to express my complex identity. While many people or systems might not recognize or accept my chosen label, I am proud of being Omani Indian American. I am proud of the nations and cultures I represent and want to continue marrying these identities.  

On the census website, I checked the box for “Asian/Asian American.” I have reconciled with the necessity of broad categories to appropriately count the United States population, but that bureaucratic gesture ultimately fails to convey my full story. I hope for a future in which society rightfully acknowledges both our specific identities and our broader cultural groups.

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Español Explainer

How to Get Help Voting in Illinois

Above: Courtesy of Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights

Nearly half of all immigrants in the Chicagoland area — around 800,000 people — are eligible to vote.

With the Nov. 3 election right around the corner, Borderless Magazine’s Diane Bou Khalil brought your most burning voting questions to Fred Tsao, senior policy counsel at the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights; Rebecca Carter, a fellow at the Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights; and Michelle Hernandez, an advocacy associate from the American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois. Hear their answers to your questions below.

 

Multilingual Voter Resources

Casi medio de todo los inmigrantes en el área de Chicagoland — casi 800,000 personas — son elegibles para votar. Con las elecciones del 8 de Noviembre casi llegando, Borderless Magazine te trae unos recursos para navegar esta elección tan importante.  

Necesitas ayuda votando en español? 888-839-8682

South Side Weekly’s Cómo votar en Chicago

Cicero Independiente’s Su Guía local para las Elecciones de Noviembre en Cicero Y Berwyn 

 

需要协助以普通话投票吗 888-274-8683

中文 (繁) 888-274-8683

한국어로 투표하는 데 도움이 필요하십니까? 888-274-8683

Cần trợ giúp bỏ phiếu bằng tiếng Việt? 888-274-8683

Kailangan mo ng tulong sa pagboto sa Filipino? 888-274-8683

                                                       بحاجة الى مساعدة التصويت باللغة العربية؟ اتصل على 5278-925-844


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English-language Voter Resources

Need help voting in English? 1-866-OUR-VOTE

Not sure if you’re registered to vote? Look it up here.

Want to know what will be on your ballot? Use Ballotpedia’s tool here.

Just Democracy’s Options for Voters Using Mail-in Ballots

Just Democracy’s Illinois Fact Sheet 

ACLU of Illinois’ Let People Vote! Guide

Injustice Watch’s Guide to Judges on the Ballot

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Categories
Video

Rohingya Americans on Voting for the First Time in US Election

About 30 members of the Rohingya community gathered at Warren Park on Oct. 20, 2020 in Chicago, Ill. Half the members gathered were there to vote for the very first time after being denied the right in their native Myanmar. The others were there in support and to learn about the voting process.

Bibi Sabura moves to turn in her ballot at Warren Park on Oct. 20, 2020 in Chicago, Ill. “I am 46 years old and this is my first time voting,” says Sabura, “in my country we could never vote.” Sabura came to the United States five years ago. Photo by Michelle Kanaar

 

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Categories
Coronavirus Essential Worker

‘Either I Risk It All Or Nothing At All’: Migrant Workers’ Need To Work Outweighs COVID-19 Concerns

Above: Samuel Gomez sits at the hotel where he and 100 or so other migrant farmworkers are living. Dana Cronin/Illinois Newsroom

On the outskirts of Rantoul, in east-central Illinois, about 100 migrant farmworkers are living at an old hotel in a sleepy part of town.

Every day at the crack of dawn, Samuel Gomez and the rest of the crew get their temperatures checked on the way out the door. Most workers, donning masks, load onto a big yellow school bus for a 30-minute drive to a large warehouse, where they will spend the day sorting corn coming in on large conveyor belts.

Gomez, who is from Mexico, is one of the lucky few with access to a car, so he drives to work with his dad and sister. He’s been here all summer, starting in the field roguing corn — removing diseased and off-type corn plants to increase the quality of the crop. Since September, he’s been working in the warehouse.

In the U.S., an estimated two to three million farmworkers plant, cultivate and harvest crops each year. Among them are migratory workers, like Gomez, who often leave behind family and friends for months at a time to find work that pays more than what they could earn back home.

The long hours and physical demands make the job risky any year, but the coronavirus pandemic has made it even riskier. Outbreaks across the U.S. linked to farms have some worried about the lack of protections for workers, upon whom the nation relies for food.

All the rooms on the first floor of this hotel-turned-migrant camp are quarantine rooms, reserved for possible COVID-19 cases. Christine Herman | Illinois Newsroom

‘It’s not the same air I breathed last season’

Gomez, 32, has been traveling to Illinois as a migrant worker for four years. When he’s working in the warehouse, he says he earns $12 an hour cleaning and sanitizing the facility — about double what he could make working in retail in Mexico.

Before he arrived in Illinois in June, he didn’t know anyone who had contracted the coronavirus, so he says he wasn’t too concerned.

“Truthfully, I was surprised when people would talk about it… It was something that didn’t exist, until I realized that it did,” Gomez says in Spanish.

Since June, there have been 21 COVID-19 cases linked to the hotel where Gomez and an entire crew of migrant workers are living, according to the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District, which tracks COVID-19 cases across Champaign County. The hotel is tied for third largest outbreak in the county, based on internal statewide public health data from July through September obtained by the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.


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When Gomez arrived and witnessed the outbreak first-hand, he says the threat became very real, and he and his colleagues started taking the requirement for mask-wearing, social distancing and hand hygiene more seriously.

Gomez says the warehouse looks different this year with fewer workers to allow for enough spacing to keep everyone safe. He says everyone is masked, and in general, he feels safe.

But he still worries about elderly workers, including his 66-year-old dad, because they share the same hotel room and work near each other.

“I worry about my dad because he’s older,” Gomez says. “I’m cautious for myself and for them. It’s what I can do.”

Josh, 24, also works at the corn processing plant. He asked that we use only his first name because he fears retaliation. Josh is an American. Born and raised in Texas, he grew up in a migrant family as the oldest of four children. He wanted to study to become a medical assistant after high school but says when he graduated, his dad got sick and was unable to work. With his family in need of support, Josh now spends most of the year traveling around the country for work.

He says being in Rantoul for the harvest season this year feels different. Since the outbreak, there’s been less socializing: no cookouts or parties.

“You can smell the air in the mornings and it just feels way different,” Josh says. “It’s not the same air I breathed last season, you know, you feel it.”

He also worries about COVID-19, but says he doesn’t have a choice when it comes to work. His family depends on him, and he hopes to save up so that one day he may be able to go to college.

“Either I risk it all or nothing at all,” he says. “I want to leave something behind… I’m not gonna give up.”

Every day, this crew of migrant workers takes a 30-minute ride on a school bus to the job site: a warehouse where they sort good corn from bad corn. Dana Cronin | Illinois Newsroom

No choice but to work

Many migrant workers make double what they could at jobs closer to home. It’s a prospect they simply can’t turn down, says Sylvia Partida, CEO of the National Center for Farmworker Health.

“Economic necessity… [is] what it comes down to,” she says. “This is their work and they rely on this work to survive.”

For migratory workers like Samuel Gomez and Josh, Partida says the risk of contracting the coronavirus is heightened — they often travel in large groups, live in congregate housing and are unfamiliar with the local resources available to them.

“There’s been a lot of fear and a lot of uncertainty,” she says. “[They’re] relying on organizations that might be able to assist them as they try to learn how to safeguard themselves.”

Partida’s organization has been tracking COVID-19 outbreaks among migrant and seasonal farmworkers — who are largely low-income and Latino — around the country. So far, outbreaks in 17 states, including several in the Midwest, have been documented in media reports. But because there isn’t an official tracking system in place, this unofficial count is likely an underestimation, Partida says.

The Food and Environment Reporting Network, which keeps a tally of COVID-19 outbreaks across the nation’s food system, reports more than 8,000 confirmed cases among U.S. farmworkers. Researchers from Purdue University, working in collaboration with Microsoft, estimate that the true number of coronavirus cases among U.S. farmworkers is much higher — about 140,000 — a number they arrived at by applying county-level infection rates to the number of farmworkers and farmers believed to be working in those counties.

In Illinois, COVID-19 cases among farmworkers are not closely tracked, but a clinic that caters to migrant and seasonal farmworkers reports that out of roughly 1,700 people tested by its staff since the start of the pandemic, 14% — or more than 200 — were positive.

Only 11 states — including Michigan, Wisconsin and Colorado — have mandatory regulations in place to protect farmworkers, according to an analysis from the Environmental Working Group. Many others have issued recommendations, Partida says, but she’s concerned they lack penalties for those who do not follow them.

“There isn’t any enforcement; no accountability,” she says.

In some states, the risks to farmworkers are compounded by increasingly deadly natural disasters fueled by climate change, including wildfires in the West. Partida says many states don’t include farmworkers in their emergency response plans.

In order for farmworker protections to be guaranteed, she says the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture would need to step up to implement enforceable guidelines.

Until then, workers like Samuel Gomez and Josh will continue traveling to the next job and hoping for the best.

“That’s the risk we take as a migrant worker, to succeed in life,” Josh says. “Back in Texas, there’s not a lot of hope. Up here there is hope for a better future.”

This story was produced by Harvest Public Media and Side Effects Public Media, in collaboration with the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting.

Dana and Christine are reporters with Illinois Newsroom. Follow them on Twitter: @DanaHCronin and @CTHerman

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Categories
The Dish

Lebanese-Mexican Restaurant Evette’s Opens Today

Above: Chicago chefs Rafael Esparza and Mitchell AbouJamra in their new restaurant, Evette’s, on Oct. 9, 2020 in Chicago, Ill. Diane Bou Khalil/Borderless Magazine

When you bite into a chicken taco árabes at Evette’s restaurant, you are tasting over a century of the blending of Lebanese and Mexican cultures, say chefs Rafael Esparza and Mitchell AbouJamra.

The taco consists of cumin-marinated chicken wrapped in pita bread and was inspired by a dish created by Lebanese and other Middle Eastern immigrants who fled to Mexico during the Ottoman Empire.

Evette “teta” AbouJamra in her kitchen in Michigan. Photo provided by Mitchell AbouJamra

For Esparza, who identifies as Chicano and whose family comes from Mexico, it’s that hidden history of immigrants adopting and blending their cuisine in a new country that makes Evette’s unique.

“I want customers to walk away with an understanding of the culture and identity struggle that children of immigrants had,” said Esparza, who is co-owner of Evette’s with AbouJamra. “Immigrant children try to incorporate their culture and assimilate even through food, Americanizing their food, like “taco pizzas,” so we don’t seem like weirdos.” 

While taco pizzas are not on the menu of Evette’s, which opens today at 350 W. Armitage Ave. in Chicago, Esparza and AbouJamra’s Mexican and Lebanese heritage is front and center in the menu. 

Evette’s pita nachos. Photo courtesy of Evette’s Chicago

Customers can choose from a variety of dishes that blend the chefs’ immigrant and Midwest roots including pita nachos, halloumi tacos, and baklava shakes. The nachos, made with fried pita bread, are covered in a special sauce from a family recipe passed down from Esparza’s grandmother.

The idea for Evette’s came from AbouJamra, who dreamed of starting a restaurant that would blend his own family’s cooking with other cultures. The restaurant is named after AbouJamra’s grandmother. 


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“Evette’s menu has been in my head forever,” said AbouJamra. “My teta Evette and aunt’s food has been perfected over generations, but I want to show what my experience was as an American-Lebanese.”

AbouJamra met Esparza while he was delivering produce to Esparza’s old cafe, Finom Coffee. That cafe, which has since closed, featured Hungarian dishes and Mexican-inspired drinks like Tres Leches De la Rosa. 

As restaurants shut down in the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, AbouJamra decided that now was the time to take a chance on his dream. 

AbouJamra asked Esparza, who has long explored the melding of cultures in his cuisine, to join him in opening Evette’s. Having had worked at fine dining and sit-down restaurants for most of his career, Esparza was ready for a more fun, fast approach to serving food. 

Photos of two neighborhoods in Beirut, Gemmayze and Mar Mikhael, popular for their art and nightlife, as well as photos of the lucha libre wrestler, Fray Tormenta, cover the walls of the new restaurant, Evette’s, on Oct. 9, 2020, in Chicago, Ill. Diane Bou Khalil/Borderless Magazine

The partnership felt fitting.

“It was scary how natural Mexican cuisine fit with my family’s existing recipes,” said AbouJamra, “The flavors combine together perfectly.”

The blending of Lebanese and Latin American cuisine featured at Evette’s is not something new. From the 1860s to the early 1900s many Lebanese immigrated to Europe, Australia, and Latin America following the Mount Lebanon massacre of Christians during the rule of the Ottoman Empire. 

As Lebanese migrated across the world, they carried with them their unique culture and cuisine. “They brought shawarma to Mexico, specifically Puebla, Mexico,” said AbouJamra. “The way that shawarma meat was cooked on a vertical spit influenced the Mexican dish al pastor. Maybe without Lebanese culture’s influence on Mexico, al pastor wouldn’t exist.”

AbouJamra’s own grandma grew up in Cuba and spoke Spanish. He says that it was Evette’s passion for food that inspired him to have a career in food.

“At a young age I could help teta roll warak enab [stuffed grape leaves] and by the time I was four years old, I was helping my teta and jeddo [grandpa] pick parsley.”

Mitchell AbouJamra with his grandparents picking parsley in Michigan in the late 1970s. Photo provided by Mitchell AbouJamra

Food was also the family business. His grandfather’s brother bought a butcher shop in Michigan in 1972, and when his grandfather retired he moved his family to the United States to help with the shop. AbouJamra was the first one out of his family to be born in the United States and learned how to butcher at his family’s store as a young man.

For AbouJamra and Esparza, it is this rich family history that Evette’s is drawing from when the chefs serve Chicagoans. 

“The food is real stuff we have tried our whole lives, and it is fun for someone who doesn’t know it,” said Esparza. “We want to get people to understand that the first generation Mexican and Lebanese culture converging with the Midwest is me and Mitchell’s experience, this is what it looks like.” 

Evette’s is open for takeout at 350 W. Armitage Ave., Chicago. See website for hours.

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As Told To Postcards from the Border

An Immigration Attorney on Protecting the Rights of Asylum Seekers

Above: Las Americas employees in front of a mural by Cimi Alvarado outside their office.

Illustrations by Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

Leer en español

Linda Rivas dreams of a future in which her job is no longer necessary. The executive director of Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center—a Texas law office for low-income immigrants—is an immigrant herself. When she was young, Las Americas assisted some members of her family, inspiring her to help communities in despair. She is now dedicated to providing legal assistance to immigrants who are held in detention centers in El Paso.


I was born in Pachuca, Hidalgo. My father was Mexican and my mother was an American citizen. I came to El Paso when I was four, and I acquired citizenship. My mother managed to grant me and my father our American citizenship all by herself. She didn’t use an attorney.  

In the ‘90s, some of my other family members received help from Las Americas to file immigrant petitions, which changed their lives. And that always really stuck with me. I remember they would say things like, “Le tenemos que llevar esto a la abogada.” (“We have to bring this to the attorney.”) And I think about that when our clients call; sometimes they’re stressed and distressed because there are so many policy changes right now. Managing what they are going through is something that is very near to my heart because my family went through it as well. To be able to come back and be a part of this is very much a dream come true. 

I was intrigued by how my family’s abogada held so much power in shaping their life. And I wanted to be someone who could help families like mine. I decided to go to law school, and I looked for some volunteering opportunities. In college, I hadn’t had much time to do extracurriculars: My mom had recently died, and I really took on caring for my younger brother who has ADHD. Once he got older, I finally had the opportunity to volunteer with a migrant shelter.

After volunteering there, it’s like I was bitten by a bug. I just knew that this was a space I wanted to be in. These people need somebody to accompany them throughout the really difficult, complicated journey of navigating the U.S. immigration system. And as a volunteer, you navigate between thinking: “Do I have a savior complex? Or am I truly empowering people?” 

That’s why I always say that it is an honor to serve the people we get to serve. We empower them by walking them through this very complicated legal process that’s designed for them to fail. If we’re able to break that, and get them any sort of legal status or get them out of a dangerous situation—for me, that’s all I set out to do. A very frustrating part of this job is seeing how a lot of people think that immigrants are undocumented because they want to be, and that if only they had all the rules, or had waited in line, or had just filed the proper papers, they’d be fine. That’s not the case. 

I lost my mom when I was 17, then my dad about four years ago. That’s been hard. But at the same time, this loss helps me relate to my clients. They, too, suffer a great loss by leaving their home country. 

In my nearly six years with Las Americas, one case that has really impacted me is the case of Alía and Maria. Maria and her children came to the United States in 2014 after her husband was killed in their hometown of Ciudad Juárez, and they applied for asylum. While they were trying to navigate the court system, Maria’s six-year-old daughter Alía was diagnosed with a very serious form of bone cancer. The family lost their case at a very early stage, and they came to Las Americas. We fought a lot, and as Alía’s cancer worsened, Maria faced deportation. We petitioned ICE for her stay of removal. They said yes. 

We fought hard, and they allowed her to stay for six months. Then Maria ended up remarrying her former husband, who is the father of her first two daughters. Because he is an American citizen, we were able to help her attain immigration status. If she hadn’t married him, I don’t know how much longer we could have protected her from deportation. To me, Maria shows the perseverance of a mother who is a fighter. She is a portrait of a refugee who is doing all she can in the worst of circumstances. 

Linda Rivas and her two children

I think about what our future could be like if we had true immigration reform. What would it mean if we had a moral ability for people to live safely in this country, to not have to live in the shadows, to not be scared of deportation? I think about how much they could grow and flourish. 

We’re really losing the opportunity to honor them and allow them to truly be a part of the success of communities around the country. Plenty of immigrants have contributed to our community. These are people who have raised doctors, nurses, and teachers. They own property and open businesses. I look at their lives in a packet that I present to the government to ask for their citizenship. To me, this packet represents so much strength and resilience.

I love working in Las Americas. It represents a lot of hope in the community; it offers some of the first defense against harmful policies that target refugees. But we want a future where Las Americas doesn’t have to exist. We want a future where migration is a human right, and it is recognized as such. We want a future where we don’t have to continuously be in this fight—where the fight has already been won. And that’s definitely a future that we continue to dream about. We’re nowhere near the end right now.

Read more Postcards from the Border here.

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Categories
As Told To Español Postcards from the Border

Una abogada de inmigración lucha por los derechos de los refugiados

Arriba: Empleados de Las Americas enfrente un mural por Cimi Alvarado afuera de la oficina.

Ilustraciones por Brian Herrera/Borderless Magazine

Read in English

Linda Rivas sueña con un futuro en el cual su trabajo ya no es necesario. La directora ejecutiva de Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center—una organización ubicada en Texas que ayuda a inmigrantes de bajos recursos—es también una inmigrante. Cuando era joven, Las Americas le brindó ayuda a algunos miembros de su familia, inspirándola a ayudar a las comunidades necesitadas. Hoy en día, ella se dedica a brindar asistencia legal a inmigrantes que están en centros de detención en El Paso.


Nací en Pachuca, Hidalgo. Mi padre era mexicano y mi madre era una ciudadana americana. Cuando tenía cuatro años nos fuimos a El Paso y conseguí mi ciudadanía. Mi mamá logró conseguirme a mí y a mi padre nuestra ciudadanía americana por sí sola. No contrató ningún abogado.

En los 90s, algunos miembros de mi familia recibieron ayuda de Las Americas y eso cambió sus vidas. Eso siempre se me quedó grabado. Me acuerdo de que decían cosas como “Le tenemos que llevar esto a la abogada”. Y me acuerdo de eso cuando nos hablan nuestros clientes; a veces están muy estresados y desesperados porque últimamente hay muchos cambios en la política. Gestionar lo que están pasando es algo que está muy cerca de mi corazón porque mi familia también pasó por todo eso. Así que, poder volver y ser parte de esto para mí es un sueño hecho realidad.

Me intrigaba mucho como la abogada de mi familia tenía tanto poder de cambiar sus vidas. Y yo quería ser alguien que ayudara a familias como la mía. Decidí ir a la escuela de leyes, y busqué oportunidades de voluntariado. En la universidad no tuve mucho tiempo de hacer actividades extracurriculares: Mi mamá había fallecido, y tuve que cuidar de mi hermano menor que tiene TDAH. Una vez que mi hermano creció, finalmente tuve la oportunidad de ser voluntaria en un centro para inmigrantes.

Después de ser voluntaria ahí es como si te picara un bicho. Simplemente supe que ese era el lugar en el que quería estar. Estas personas necesitan a alguien que las acompañe en este viaje tan difícil y complicado que es navegar en el sistema de inmigración de los Estados Unidos. Y como voluntaria, navegas pensando entre: “¿Tengo un complejo de salvador? ¿O realmente estoy empoderando a las personas?”

Por eso siempre digo que es un honor servir a las personas que nos toca servir. Los empoderamos guiándonos a través de este proceso legal tan complicado que está diseñado para que fracasen.

Si somos capaces de romper eso y conseguirles algún tipo de estatus legal o sacarlos de alguna situación peligrosa, para mí, eso es todo lo que me propuse hacer. Una parte muy frustrante de mi trabajo es ver cómo la gente piensa que los inmigrantes son indocumentados porque quieren serlo, y que, si tan solo hubieran seguido las reglas, o esperado en la línea, o llenado los documentos adecuados, estarían bien. Ese no es el caso. 

Perdí a mi mamá cuando tenía 17, y luego a mi papá hace cuatro años. Ha sido difícil. Pero al mismo tiempo, esta pérdida me ayuda a relacionarme con mis clientes. Ellos también han sufrido grandes pérdidas al abandonar sus países de origen.

En mis casi seis años trabajando con Las Americas, un caso que en verdad me ha impactado fue el caso de Alía y María. María y sus hijos vinieron a los Estados Unidos en el 2014 después de que su esposo fuera asesinado en Ciudad Juárez. Llegando solicitaron asilo. Mientras estaban tratando de navegar por el sistema judicial, Alía, la hija de seis años de María, fue diagnosticada de un caso muy grave de cáncer de hueso. La familia perdió el caso en una etapa muy temprana, y luego vinieron a Las Americas. Luchamos mucho, y mientras el cáncer de Alía seguía empeorando, María enfrentaba la deportación. Solicitamos a ICE que suspendiera la deportación. Dijeron que sí.

Luchamos tanto, y la dejaron quedarse por seis meses. Después, María terminó casándose con su exesposo, el cual es el padre de sus primeras dos hijas. Debido a que él es un ciudadano americano, pudimos ayudarla a obtener un estatus migratorio. Si no se hubiera casado con él, no sé cuánto más podríamos haberla protegido de la deportación. Para mí, María muestra la perseverancia de una madre que es una luchadora. Ella es el portarretrato de una refugiada que hace todo lo que puede en la peor de las circunstancias.

Linda Rivas con sus dos hijos.

Me pregunto cómo sería si en verdad contáramos con reformas de inmigración. ¿Qué significa si tuviéramos la habilidad moral para que las personas vivieran a salvo en este país, que no vivieran entre las sombras, que no tuvieran miedo a la deportación? Pienso en lo mucho que podrían crecer y florecer.

En verdad estamos perdiendo la oportunidad de honrarlos y permitirles ser parte del éxito de las comunidades alrededor del país. Muchos inmigrantes han contribuido a nuestra comunidad. Estas son personas que han criado doctores, enfermeras, y profesores. Ellos poseen y crean negocios. Veo sus vidas en un paquete cuando voy y se lo llevo al gobierno pidiendo que les concedan la ciudadanía. Para mí, ese paquete representa tanta fuerza y resiliencia.

Amo trabajar en Las Americas. Representa mucha esperanza en la comunidad; ofrece una de las primeras defensas en contra de políticas dañinas que afectan a refugiados. Sin embargo, queremos un futuro en el que Las Americas no tenga que existir. Queremos un futuro en donde la migración es un derecho humano y que sea reconocido como tal. Queremos un futuro en el que no tengamos que estar luchando constantemente—donde la batalla ya haya sido ganada. Y definitivamente ese es el futuro que soñamos continuamente. Actualmente, no estamos ni cerca del final.

Lee más Postales de la Frontera aquí.

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Essential Worker Video

Chasing the American Dream in the Gig Economy

Each week Borderless Magazine brings you “Behind the Story,” a video podcast about the people impacted by this nation’s immigration policies.

This week reporter Diane Bou Khalil spoke to Chicago immigrant storyteller, Nestor Gomez about his new book, “Your Driver Has Arrived: Ridesharing Stories.”