Little security exists for illegal immigrants

Jesus Carmona, a Mexican citizen who fled his country more than 30 years ago, talks about eking out a living in a long list of jobs over the years. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Herald

Jesus Carmona, a Mexican citizen who fled his country more than 30 years ago, talks about eking out a living in a long list of jobs over the years.

Uncertainty is the hallmark of life underground.

Eight years after arriving in Durango, two illegal immigrants, who agreed to be interviewed only on the condition of anonymity, still struggle.

Both are from the same city in the Mexican state of Chiapas, but they didn’t meet until they ended up in the same safehouse in Durango.

In the safehouse, they said they endured dirty water and squalid conditions – one bathroom for 22 people – before their smuggler provided them with false identification. From there, they and two others moved into a mobile home.

The pair, now married, work together in grounds maintenance in good weather and sell homemade goods when it gets cold.

“Wages are low, but we don’t complain,” he said. “It’s out of fear.”

Despite their low income, she sends money to three children from a previous marriage who are preparing for professional careers in Chiapas.

“I don’t want them to have the life I’ve lived,” she said. “That’s my consolation.”

They’ve learned to live with their guard up. A rumor that immigration authorities were staking out Walmart led them to do their shopping late at night.

“We’d buy as much as we could afford at one time,” she said.

The lack of a sense of security never changes for the undocumented.

At 79, Jesus Carmona has spent more than half his life in the United States but still has no legal authorization to be here.

In his 30s, with no schooling past the sixth grade, he left Mexico and his eight siblings behind to seek a better life in California.

Over the years, he worked as a tortilla maker, fruit harvester, cotton picker, ranch hand and shepherd.

About eight years ago, he was asked to help take care of an elderly women, and she has been his companion ever since.

The two live in a 60-year-old mobile home outside Durango. She is a U.S. citizen, so they get by on her meager Social Security payments.

He has few possessions and no photos of himself or his family back in Mexico.

In all his years here, Carmona never worried about his status because he always had work. And these days, with his body old and broken down, papers seem pointless.

“Why would I need them now? I can’t work,” he said in Spanish.

That papers would make him eligible for services and benefits he sorely needs for his diabetes and high blood pressure is of little concern to him.

But it is to Doménica Ames, an advocate with Promoviendo La Salud, a program through the San Juan Basin Health Department that does health outreach with Latino populations.

She is deeply worried about what might happen to Carmona when his companion, who is in her 90s and suffers spells of dementia, dies.

“He’s a brave person. Hopefully, there will be a safe shelter for him,” said Ames, who was studying medicine in Peru before she came to Durango for a winter and fell in love with a local resident.

Carmona, who laughs easily and heartily, doesn’t dwell on his uncertain future when Ames visits him to see if he is taking his medicine, which he pays for.

“All we can do is go forward and see what happens,” he said.

Doménica Ames of San Juan Basin Health, left, takes Jesus Carmona’s blood pressure as he disucusses his living situation and history in rural La Plata County. Carmona, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years. Enlarge photo

SHAUN STANLEY/Herald

Doménica Ames of San Juan Basin Health, left, takes Jesus Carmona’s blood pressure as he disucusses his living situation and history in rural La Plata County. Carmona, a Mexican citizen, has lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years.