Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Face of Illegal Immigration

For the past 3 years we have been dealing with immigration law.  I never thought I would say this, but our immigration status has become an inextricable part of our everyday lives.  For the most part, compliance with the law has been more of an annoyance than the cause of trepidation, but now, well,

the times they are a changin'
                                                                                                          Bob Dylan  
As citizens of the United States, when we arrive in Costa Rica, we are entitled to stay up to 90 days on a tourist visa, but when those 90 days are up, we need to leave the country.  If we are outside of Costa Rica for at least 72 hours, we get a brand new tourist visa when we reenter the country,  starting the process over again.   Its quite simple; we live here for 3 months, leave for 3 days and repeat.

To be honest, the law has been more of a blessing than a curse.  These visa renewal trips have given us the opportunity to take some needed time off, to refocus on the work we are doing, to spend some great time together as a family, and to visit Nicaragua and Panama (because it is much cheaper to travel there than to go home).  The only downsides are the cost and, well,

Is there ever really a good time to up and leave for 3 days?

Anyway, we came back from our last trip to the states in January which started our 90 day clock.  That means, by April we needed to have left Costa Rica, all of us.  However, in March, TheVWM 's sister decided to give birth to her second child, and in order to meet her newest niece and visit/help her sister, TheVWM booked a trip home in May.  That trip left us with no real time, or money, to get the family out of the country, so, my visa expired, and

I became an illegal immigrant.  
Now, to be perfectly honest, we have let our visas expire before.  I think the longest time, before this,  was a couple of weeks, maybe a month, but we always had a trip planned so I never REALLY felt like I was breaking the law.  Besides, nobody really looked at our passports before.  I mean, we are gringos, from the land of milk and honey.  For us, the customs and immigration process had been more of a formality, until now.

In February, less than a month after returning home, the Costa Rican government passed a law cracking down on scofflaws, like us.  They augmented their immigration statutes to include fines and deportation for illegals that overstay their visas.  I heard about the law when it passed, but thought nothing of it.  The citizenry, and even the government, are always complaining about immigrants from other Latin American countries, but they don't seem to care much about us gringos.  So it seemed to me, this law was focusing on "those" people, and after a few days, I completely forgot about it all together.

Then, a couple of months ago, I ran into this guy I know and he brought up this law.  This guy has lived  down here for few years now.  He has a business, he has a kid, and he has been fighting to get a resident visa for months, and the reason?  This law.  He applied for the visa because, according to him, the law was actually targeting the gringos and the plan was to begin enforcement of the new in August, 4 months AFTER I became illegal.

I started to panic.

We didn't have the money to take a trip out of the country, and we surely didn't have the money to pay the fines ($100 per person per month you are illegal).  We didn't have time for a trip because the "summer" months are my prime time, and I already had several work teams scheduled back to back with limited time between, and well, we just didn't want to leave.  I also, with everything thing in me, didn't want to be deported.  I mean, really, how would that look? 

An entire missionary family deported?

So for a couple of months I was completely stressed out.  Not only was I working like crazy, trying to spend time with my family, investing in the lives of a few Costa Rican friends I have down here, and coaching football (yeah thats right I coach American Football), but I was worrying about being deported.

I know, I know, it was highly unlikely that we would be deported, but...

Every time I passed  a cop, a police checkpoint, every time I needed to pay a bill, or make a phone call to some semi-governmental agency (like the phone company, internet company, insurance, etc.), I thought it was over.  I just knew I was either headed to jail or back home on one of those deportation airlines.

I was frantic.  I started having problems getting to bed at a reasonable time, I was stress eating EVERYTHING I could shove in my mouth, and then there was the diarrhea.

Ok, so maybe it wasn't all that bad.

Maybe I like to stay up late, and am pretty much a "chancho", and maybe we get diarrhea from time to time down here, this IS the emerging world you know.  Regardless, I was worried, but now I can gladly say once again,  I am legal!.  We were able to spend a few days in Panama (TheVWM's version of the trip, and my version) and our visas have now been renewed.

Really, I was reminded of my own immigration status by Fox News this morning as they reported about the court decision on the new Arizona immigration law, and although I don't feel like participating in a debate on immigration, legal or otherwise, I just wanted to share a little about my experience.

The Face of Illegal Immigration

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