But she develops a plan. She will become a resident and bring her children to the United States legally. Three times, she hires storefront immigration counselors who promise help. She pays them a total of $3,850. But the counselors never deliver.
One is a supposed attorney near downtown Los Angeles. Another is a blind man who says he once worked at the INS.
Lourdes's friends say he's helped them get work papers. A woman in Long Beach, whose house she cleans, agrees to
sponsor her residency. The blind man dies of diabetes. Soon after, Lourdes gets a letter from the INS. Petition denied.
She must try again. A chance to get her papers comes from someone Lourdes trusts. Dominga is an older woman with whom Lourdes shares an apartment. Dominga has become
Lourdes's surrogate mother. She loans Lourdes money when she runs short. She gives her advice on how to save so she can bring her children north. When Lourdes comes home late, she leaves her tamales or soup on the table, under the black velvet picture of the Last Supper.
Dominga is at the Los Angeles INS office. She's there to try to help a son arrested in an immigration raid. A woman walks up to her in the hallway. My name, she tells Dominga, is Gloria Patel. I am a lawyer. I have friends inside the INS who can help your son become legal. In fact, I work for someone inside the INS. She hands Dominga her business card. IMMIGRATION CONSULTANT. LEGAL PROFESSIONAL SERVICES. It has a drawing of the Statue of Liberty. Residency costs $3,000 per person up front, $5,000 total. Find five or six interested immigrants, the woman tells Dominga, and
I'll throw in your son's residency papers for free.
"I found a woman, a great attorney!" Dominga tells Lourdes. "She can make us legal in one month." At most, three months. Dominga convinces other immigrants in her
apartment complex to sign up. Initially, the recruits are skeptical. Some accompany Dominga to
Patel's office. It is a suite in a nice building that also houses the Guatemalan Consulate. The waiting room is full. Two men loudly discuss how Patel has been successful in legalizing their family members. Patel shows Dominga papers
proof, she says, that her
son's legalization process is already under way.
They leave the office grateful that Patel has agreed to slash her fee to $3,500 and require only $1,000 per person as a first installment. Lourdes gives Patel what she has: $800.
Soon Patel demands final payments from everyone to keep going. Lourdes balks. Should she be sending this money to her children in Honduras instead? She talks to Patel on the phone. She claims to be Salvadoran but sounds Colombian.
Patel is a smooth talker. "How are you going to lose out on this amazing opportunity? Almost no one has this opportunity! And for this incredible price."
"It's that there are a lot of thieves here. And I don't earn much."
"Who said I'm going to rob you?"
Lourdes prays. God, all these years, I have asked you for only one thing: to be with my children again. She hands over another $700. Others pay the entire $3,500.
Patel promises to send everyone's legalization papers in the mail. A week after mailing in the last payments, several
migrants go back to her office to see how things are going. The office is shuttered. Gloria Patel is gone. Others in the building say she had rented space for one month. The papers the migrants were shown were
filled-out applications, nothing more.
Lourdes berates herself for not dating an American who asked her out long ago. She could have married him, maybe even had her children here by now...
Lourdes wants to give her son and daughter some hope. "I'll be back next Christmas," she tells Enrique.
Enrique fantasizes about Lourdes's expected homecoming in December. In his mind, she arrives at the door with a box of Nike shoes for him.
"Stay," he pleads. "Live with me. Work here. When I'm older, I can help you work and make money."
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