in January the immigration officer wrote “30” on our visas, which meant we could only stay in Mexico for one more month. “You’ve got to be kidding,” I said to Jack. But I was so happy to be back in the sunshine after a wintery visit to the states, that I dismissed any worry about what that meant, choosing to believe that the number was an error. Always in the past tourists were allowed 180 day stays before having to cross the border again. Besides, I thought, we won’t have to think about what it means until our next trip in June. Denial is a lovely way of life.
But soon we started hearing from other ex-pats in San Miguel that things had changed. It is now up to the discretion of each individual immigration officer how long he gives you to stay. 30 days is becoming the norm. Increasingly ex-pats are applying for residency, switching their visas from “tourist” to “temporal” or “permanente,” in order to solve the problem. But that is a daunting process, one which has to start with an interview at the one of the US Consulate offices in the States. Each state’s consulate has its own financial requirements and its own challenges in scheduling appointments. D.C, of course, is about the worst.
I started to imagine what life would be like for Jack and me in a Mexican jail when we tried to board the plane in June with our expired visas. An acquaintance said she had gone to an immigration lawyer in town to help her get her residencia temporal. Temporal allows someone to stay in Mexico for four years without having to leave the country. Apparently going from temporal to permanente is a piece of cake.
We met with Ian Clement, the immigration lawyer, who explained that the easiest way for us to be approved was to go to the Consulate in Laredo, Tx. “They’re the most lenient in their requirements, and they’re much more casual about the whole thing. Julie, you’ll be fine, you’ll pass with no problem with the amount of investments you have. Jack, let’s hope you do, but I can’t promise.”
We booked our flight to Leon, with appointments at the consulate and financial proof in hand. No one at the airport even looked at our visas when we left Mexico. 4 hours later the plane landed at the small airport in Laredo. But it felt like we had made a U-turn and gone back to Mexico because everyone looked Mexican and was speaking in Spanish. I was totally focused on getting to the consulate the next morning for our back-to-back appointments and didn’t care about anything else. Jack, on the other hand, was totally intent on getting to Ringo’s Bar-b-Que restaurant for some lip smacking good ribs, the kind we can’t get in San Miguel. But when we arrived at the the restaurant, it was closed. Permanently. You would have thought someone told Jack a family member had died, he was so devastated. While he grumbled, I asked our taxi driver to take us someplace he would recommend for lunch. “Get over it,” I snapped at Jack as he grumbled on. “Food is not the purpose of this trip!” The restaurant the driver took us to was, shall I say, not a place of our dreams. But the fried chicken was decent and Jack had to admit the fish was good.
But the motel we stayed in... Oh my God. It was right off the highway, like a No Tell Motel.The door from the lobby to the little row of motel rooms was held together by scotch tape. There was no light in our room, no phone, no rod in the closet, no working hairdryer. But there was also no cartel bursting into our room in the middle of the night, and Jack was in luck, there was a Denny’s a few hundred feet away to make up for a shitty night’s sleep.
My blood pressure was through the roof. We waited outside the consulate office (with about 20 Mexicans at first, and more who came and went) before the armed guard let us in, one at a time. I was wearing my embroidered Mexican shoes and the women sitting on the wall across from me said in Spanish, “We love your shoes! Where did you get them?” “San Miguel,” I answered proudly. “Ah, San Miguel," she said, raising her eyebrows.
Jack went inside first. I thought my head was going to split open waiting to know if he passed the interview. I prayed he was charming. When my appointment time came, I took Jack’s seat. “I have to use the ATM machine to get American dollars,” he said. “They won’t take a credit card. I passed!” I felt like kissing the interviewer even before I sat down. In the end, both of us were approved. “Welcome to Mexico,” the interviewer smiled, using the few English words she knew. The only words that mattered.