The United States is not the only country grappling with the issue of illegal immigration and birthright citizenship. In Mexico, children of undocumented immigrants also become citizens. Thousands of undocumented immigrants come to Mexico every year – many of them traveling through with the intention of crossing into the United States. From January to September of this year, Mexican immigration officials deported more than 53,000 immigrants. While reporting for my current feature “Children of the Exodus,” I met a 19-year old woman from China’s Fujian Province who undertook the long and perilous journey to the United States while eight months pregnant. This is her story:
It’s a sweltering July morning, when two Mexican immigration agents arrive at Reynosa’s migrant shelter for unaccompanied children. Eleuterio Valdez, the shelter’s director, comes out of his office to find a hugely pregnant 19 year-old Chinese girl in his lobby. The immigration agents leave. The girl doesn’t speak a word of English or Spanish. Even worse, she’s now having contractions. In a panic, Valdez scans the Yellow Pages looking for Chinese restaurants. His only hope is to find a Chinese restaurant owner who will help him communicate with the girl. He drives from restaurant to restaurant, but they all refuse him. Kidnappings and extortions plague Reynosa, which has been overrun by the drug cartels. The businessmen think he is a kidnapper. Out of luck and at his last Chinese buffet, Valdez begs the owner to at least speak to Lu on the telephone. She’s at the hospital now. Her contractions have become unbearable and she’s scared. The man reluctantly takes the receiver. Valdez can hear Lu screaming over the phone. Whatever she said, it works, the restaurant owner hangs up the phone. Without a word, he follows Valdez to the car and they drive to the hospital.
It’s a month after the baby’s birth, and Valdez is telling me this story as he stands in the shelter’s lobby. Since Lu and her son came to the shelter, Valdez has been able to piece together her story with the help of Reynosa’s small Chinese immigrant community and by using translation programs on the Internet. The 19-year old girl, who they call Lu, lounges on a couch in the lobby watching Chinese movies on her laptop, while a soft spoken 13-year old Mexican girl, who Valdez tells me is an orphan, gives Lu’s infant son a bottle. Lu left the Fujian Province in June when she was eight months pregnant, flew to Russia then on to Cuba. From there she traveled to Belize where she walked for several hours through the mountains until she arrived in Mexico. After that Lu boarded a bus to Reynosa. For this journey she paid a smuggler $4,000, Valdez tells me. Upon her arrival in Reynosa, the coyote sized up her pregnant belly and refused to take her across the river. Instead, he tricked her into walking across the international bridge alone. Lu, not surprisingly, was denied entry by the U.S. Customs agent, whereupon the petite and largely pregnant Lu clung to the agent’s desk, and began to wail and throw a fit. It took two U.S. agents to pry her hands from the agent’s desk and carry her back toward Mexico.
Valdez says he’s doing his best to convince Lu to stay in Reynosa and try to make a life for herself and her one-month old son until she can fix their immigration papers and enter the United States legally. Her infant son is a Mexican citizen now, and Lu has been given temporary resident status. In a city riddled by drug violence and a flagging economy, the story about the little Chinese-Mexican boy is a bright spot of human interest for Reynosa’s 700,000 citizens. She has become a minor celebrity in the local news media, and the Chinese buffet owner who translated for her at the hospital has offered her a job. The 19-year old has other plans, though. She has a brother and sister who own a clothing store in New York City, and she’s determined to get there. Lu has already been denied a U.S. tourist visa back in China. Her plan is to return home, leave her infant son with his father and then pay another smuggler to guide her into the United States. Valdez glances over at the young mother on the couch and shakes his head. “It’s very difficult,” he says. “When they arrive here they feel awful. All this time they have it in their minds that they’ll be reunited with their families in the United States, but then they’re dreams are cut short.”