“I SOLD MY house, packed and took my children,” Maria-Elena Perez told me of her border crossing from Mexico in 2004.
Perez told about leaving her hometown of La Mira on a bus to the city Lazaro Cardenas.
In 2004, her sons, Raoul and Julio, were 8 and 6 years old respectively. Diana was not quite 1 year old. Leaving the state of Michoacan, they rode for four days until they reached Sonora, Mexico.
“We walk for about four hours with a group of about 10 other people,” Perez said.
“We are afraid because we don’t know our way around,” she explained and said they knew one other family in their group, but they crossed paths with many other people with different destinations.
“When we get to the border we see patrol cars and we wait for them to go away, then we walk through the barbed wire fence,” Perez said, adding that her young Diana began to cry and their white American guide told her to keep her kids quiet.
The small group got across the border and a car drove Perez and her kids to a safe house in Arizona.
There, they waited for a couple of days for her husband, Salvador Garcia, to drive down from Forks to pick them up.
Perez paid $2,000 for a guide and a car to get her and her kids across the border.
She got right to work cleaning hotel rooms at Kalaloch Lodge.
She said, “At that time they just ask if you’re legal, but now ICE [Immigration and Customs Enforcement] has canceled my permit to work so if a place has e-verify they won’t hire me.”
Perez usually works three jobs, owns a house, owns cars, pays taxes and sends a little money to her mom and dad in Mexico.
Her two younger children are in Forks schools — Diana is in eighth grade and Joel is in kindergarten. Her two older boys have graduated from Forks High School and are at work.
Her older sons work in Forks providing their employers with bilingual employees. Their dog is neutered and inside a fenced yard.
July 2 of this year is Perez’s scheduled deportation date.
She was never under the illusion she might not have trouble at some point.
However, she said “the people feel oppressed from authority in Mexico because the police do not listen to you or do anything to help you.”
“The dream for many countries is to come to America and see what opportunities are in this country.”
She said her legal problems in America began in 2008 when the family was stopped at a checkpoint set up on U.S. Highway 101 just south of Beaver.
“We had the opportunity to run but chose to keep going, because why endanger the children?” said Perez.
Then she reminded me of the time frame and I remember this seemed to be a time of increased activity for the border patrol on the West End.
It was also around the time when a Mexican man died in the Sol Duc River fleeing from border patrol officers. I pass by his family-made memorial on the side of the highway when I drive to Forks from home.
At the checkpoint, the whole family was arrested in Beaver at around 5 p.m. and detained with their children in a cell.
Perez said at 1 a.m. the following day, they were released onto the streets of Port Angeles.
The officers declined to give them a ride and there were, and still are, no buses at that time.
According to Perez, she has spent thousands for a lawyer since then.
She also spends $500 a year for a permit to work and has done so since 2013.
Most recently she paid for a work permit in September 2017. That permit was approved in December and valid until December 2018.
“I feel like I am crazy from the stress,” she says.
Perez pulls out a stack of forms with official letterheads and manilla envelopes.
“In February I got my first letter from ICE that I have to go to Seattle to report with them, then they told me that my permit to work, which was just approved, and petition for stay of removal or deportation were denied,” she said.
Since then, she has appealed decisions and filed petitions to stay in Forks with her family. So far, they have all been denied.
“When I go back [to ICE], they want to see a plane ticket or a decision from the federal court that I can stay,” Perez says.
“The kids are worried and sometimes sad,” she said.
“I am their mom and if they send me away who will buy the good food, clean their clothes, feed them, go to conferences at school and buy clothes?”
“My biggest concern is Diana,” Perez said. She is afraid to take her long-haired beautiful daughter to Mexico.
“The violence and organized crime in Mexico, they kidnap young ones to use for prostitution and drug running,” she said.
She said when she is in court, the judges ask for a good reason she should stay, something equating to life or death.
Zorina Barker lives in the Sol Duc Valley with her husband, a logger, and two children she home-schools.
Submit items and ideas for the column to her at zorinabarker firstname.lastname@example.org, or call her at 360-461-7928. West End Neighbor appears in the PDN every other Tuesday.
Her next column will be May 29.