Cold realities greet Mexican migrants
Published: Monday, October 15, 2007
The sky was bright and the autumn air brisk with a cool wind as 58-year-old Galdina Leon walked with her son and granddaughter near the river in downtown Windsor Saturday.
She looked uncomfortably cold, despite the oversized fall jacket she wore, and hugged herself for warmth. You know, this is only the beginning of the winter season, she was told. The weather will get much colder.
“Mas frio?” she asked in disbelief with a nervous laugh.
Yes, more cold.
The weather here appears to be one of many surprises challenging the estimated 313 Mexican and Haitian refugee claimants arriving in recent weeks mainly from the Naples, Fla., area, where local authorities have reportedly begun to take more stringent measures toward deporting illegal aliens.
For Leon and her family of seven, the unexpected hurdles started the moment they crossed the tunnel into Windsor Sept. 28, her son Miguel Morales said.
Morales thought his family would be waved through the border, fill out some quick forms and soon thereafter be allowed to start working legally and living freely.
Instead, he said, they were held up 23 hours at the tunnel and given stern warnings by two border guards as their documentation was processed.
“Don't get any hopes,” Morales said a guard had told them. “There is nothing for you here.”
He said another guard cautioned, “As soon as they say you're not allowed to be here, I'm going to go there myself and I'm going to arrest you.”
Until they get the OK from immigration, they can't work. As the harsh realities begin to set in, Morales said he sometimes questions the family's decision to move here, especially now that there's the threat of being denied legal status here and the possibility of ending up back in Mexico, where they have not lived for a decade.
Immigration officials say “economic refugees” leaving Mexico's poverty to work illegally in the U.S. have just a 13 per cent chance of success gaining status in Canada as refugees. “I feel like, 'Oh my God, this is a big mistake,' Morales said. “And I was thinking, this is a lie from the people that said this is good.”
But, most of the time Morales said he tries to stay positive.
“It's too late to point fingers,” he said.
For now, he's just thankful that his family is together and safe.
His family has met with representatives of Windsor social services, who outlined a long to-do checklist ranging from medical exams, to paperwork, to English classes and enrolling kids in school.
Much of that list is completed. Morales said the family is now renting a house downtown. It's sparsely furnished, with air mattresses and a microwave paid for with benefits they are receiving through social services — another unexpected surprise.
“We were not thinking this way like OK we go there as refugees and people going to pay for our health and our food and everything, we never saw it that way,” said Morales, who worked in a flower nursery for many years in Florida. “We were thinking OK we go there for working, not for taking money from the city. Definitely that was not our purpose.”
His niece, Mariela Valdez, said she has had two job offers to work as a housekeeper at two local motels. Like her uncle, she's eager to start working. But for now, they simply wait for the permission to do so.
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