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The Voice of the COMMUNITY The Hert 13 ,, “Best place to cure r what ails you” Explore our Oasis of Earthly Delights! extensive array of natural health and bodycare products comprehensive collection of herbs great gift ideas and much more! 200 West Mary 444-6251 Mon.-Fri. 10-6:30 Sat. 10-5 “Back in the ’90s, being a patero was a trade, and there were rules. You paid your money, and they delivered you to the other side.” money to pay another smuggler. Pedro wonders how much longer his stepfather will keep coming. “I want to go back to school in Harlingen,” he says. “There isn’t anything left for me in Michoacan.” His mother can’t become legal in the United States. In 1996, Congress stiffened immigration laws so that anyone who entered illegally and married a U.S. citizen could no longer pay a fine to become legal. Instead, his mother would have to return to Mexico, wait years then reapply to enter. These days, the U.S. government isn’t inclined to allow anyone to re-enter once they’ve admitted to entering illegally. It’s a Catch-22. VALDEZ, LIKE EVERY DIF OFFICIAL I speak to, assures me that before a child is released to anyone, DIF makes sure they are related. A battery of documentation is required, including birth certificates and a photo ID from the relative with a surname matching the child’s. They say they always reunite the children with their families and send them home. But what happens if home is on the other side of the Rio Grande? Or if there is no home? I arrange an interview with the head of the DIF in Matamoros, Marisa Castafieda de Silva, the mayor’s wife. \(Every mayor’s wife is obliged to run the city’s DIF office, while the governor’s wife oversees DIF for the I am ushered into a conference room with soft light, scented candles and plates of cookies. Castaileda plies me with cookies and thanks me for coming. In 2008, a Mexican congressional committee reported 90,000 children had been sent back by U.S. authorities to border cities like hers. At least 13,500 were never claimed. I ask Castarieda whether children are being abandoned in her city and what happens to them after they leave the DIF? She begins reading from scripted answers on index cards handed to her by a public relations employee. “The shelter is always ready. We provide blankets and clothes for the children,” she smiles. “We work closely with the church to raise money for food and clothes for the shelter.” I wait politely, and then ask again. The public relations employee scribbles furiously on an index card, then hands it to her. “We work to reunite children with their parents,” she says, then refers me to Lilia Orizaga, who runs the shelter. Her assistant sends me on my way with a bag of cookies. Matamoros receives about half the children that Reynosa does at its shelter-324 children from January to mid-August of this year, says Orizaga. A city of 450,000, Matamoros is smaller than Reynosa and not as desirable a place to cross. In Reynosa, it’s a straight shot to San Antonio and Interstate 35, then on to any destination in the United States. Pass through Matamoros to Brownsville, and just north of the city you reach vast and barren ranchland, which is probably why Border Patrol has sent 14-year-old Susana here. This is her fifth failed attempt to reach the United States in a month. Susana arrived at the Matamoros shelter an hour ago. She clutches a small, black duffel bag as if she might be leaving at any moment. She was in the Reynosa DIF already, Orizaga says, but a cousin bailed her out. Susana says they crossed that night in an inflatable boat. The boat became trapped among broken tree limbs and debris. They were lost for five hours, until Border Patrol agents fished them out. Her goal is to make it to Kansas, where her father works. “I haven’t seen him in five years,” she says. It costs $2,500 to get to there. “My father pays half in Reynosa and the other half when I arrive in McAllen,” she says. She’s been caught three times by Border Patrol: once on a bus in Houston, the second time at the San Antonio bus station, the third time on the river. She just spent two days in a Border Patrol holding cell, where she says she was scared at first because she was alone, “but then the cell filled with at least 10 other children, and we were all together.” She doesn’t know what happened to her cousin, she says. “The smugglers separated us before we crossed.” Susana says she’s ready to go home. “I don’t want to stay here. I’m tired of fighting,” she says. Orizaga says the Reynosa shelter should never have released Susana to her cousin. “This time it will have to be a parent,” she says. But Susana is doubtful that either parent will come to Matamoros. “I don’t believe my father will come for me, and the truth is, I don’t think my mother will, either, because she has to take care of my younger brothers and sisters,” she says. Susana is one of three kids who say they’ll go home once they leave the shelter. The other two are Armando and Jose, who never wanted to cross in the WWW.TEXASOBSERVER.ORG