Patricia Miramontes is keeping a promise she made last fall when the father of her baby daughter, Merci, was deported from Casper to Ciudad Juarez, Mexico.
To keep her family together, as she vowed to do, she’s moved to El Paso, Texas, across the Rio Grande River from Ciudad Juarez and joined the borderland ebb and flow of two sister cities separated by a river and perpetually shifting immigration politics.
WyoFile profiled Miramontes last December, after following the family for a two-month period that began with Julio Balderas’ arrest by Immigrations and Customs Enforcement agents while driving in Casper. The family is one of several in Casper that were broken up by ICE agents at that time — and likely since — when husbands, boyfriends and fathers were caught in the net of an immigration crackdown.
Though Balderas hadn’t had any interactions with law enforcement more serious than a speeding ticket in years, he had previously been deported in 2011 and recrossed the border soon after. The illegal reentry made him subject to deportation, though he otherwise avoided lawbreaking for the intervening six years. During that time he met Miramontes, had a child with her and melded their children from previous relationships into one family.
At the time, Miramontes told WyoFile that she would likely leave Wyoming for El Paso, where she could cross the border regularly to see her boyfriend and keep him in Merci’s life. Speaking from Juarez last week, she said that’s exactly what she has done and that relocating her family to Texas has been difficult.
Upon arrival, she and the kids moved in with Balderas in Juarez. She crossed the border nearly everyday to look for work in El Paso. Within a month, she still had no job and her savings were running out, she said.
She was beginning to consider giving up and taking her children back to Casper, where she had worked as a bank teller.
“I was thinking I’m ready to throw in the towel,” Miramontes said.
Though she was nearly a thousand miles south of Casper, Wyoming’s small-town network intervened.
Miramontes put her resume in with a pest control company seeking an office manager and was called in for an interview. The manager of the Texas company was from Casper. They knew each other’s families. Miramontes got the job. She rented an apartment in El Paso and enrolled her two older children — Mauricio and Hirleenda — in public school there.
Last fall, Miramontes told WyoFile one impact of her boyfriend’s deportation was the loss of his income, which she said forced her to seek government-subsidized childcare so she could maintain her own job. “I hate being on government assistance,” Miramontes said at the time.
Though Balderas is back at work since arriving in Juarez, the cross-border economics means his salary does not go far to support his family in El Paso, Miramontes said.
In Wyoming, Balderas had worked in construction and had a side business pouring cement.
In Juarez, he found work in a “maquilladora,” the Mexican nickname for the assembly plants that corporations locate just south of the border to take advantage of cheap labor and lax regulation while maintaining quick access to U.S. markets. Balderas works in a factory that assembles motorcycle parts. He earns around $8 a day, Miramontes said.
When the family is in Juarez, Balderas and his family make sure they are fed and taken care of. Much of his meager income goes to pay off an air conditioning unit he had installed, on a loan, for the baby’s comfort in stifling Juarez. Meanwhile, Miramontes has applied for and just recently received state child-care support in El Paso, so that the baby Merci can be watched while she goes to work at the pest control company.
Before then, she left Merci with Balderas’ family in Juarez while she lived in El Paso during the week. The family stays together in Mexico on weekends.
Having her child away from her and across an international border was difficult for Miramontes given Juarez’s notorious crime. “There’s a lot of kidnappings for kids right now and I’m not kidding it’s hard for me to even sleep at night,” she said.
The U.S. Department of State continues to warn American travelers away from the Mexican city. From 2011-2015 Juarez saw a decline in homicides, but they picked back up in 2016, according to the State Department. The city of around 1.3 million people saw 526 murders in 2016, the department wrote. A significant number of the murders are gang- and drug-cartel related.
Miramontes worries about robberies and kidnapping because those who cross over from the United States are seen as having money, an illusion in her case given her obligations as a single mother. “It wouldn’t be worth kidnapping me and asking for money because I don’t have any money,” she said.
Juarez’s poverty, disorder and crime has shocked Miramontes, she said.
She recalled driving through Juarez, her Wyoming license plates still on her car, and being pulled over by a police officer who took her drivers license. The officer extorted her for “a little fee” — $20 — to get it back. “They do that to their own people,” she said. “It’s scary.”
Her time there has made it far easier for her to understand her boyfriends’ willingness to risk deportation and time in a U.S. immigration prison not once but twice, Miramontes said. But, Balderas and Miramontes have decided not to risk the border crossing again. A third arrest could mean prison time under U.S. immigration law. It’s not worth it, she said.
He is not allowed to enter the United States for 20 years, Miramontes said.
Instead, she and Balderas will try to get married at the border someday soon. They will then try to get a pardon for Balderas and work on securing legal immigration status for him. The strategy costs money for lawyers and filing fees that the couple can ill-afford, Miramontes said. Nor is it guaranteed. As the Trump administration cracks down on illegal immigration, it has also made legal immigration more difficult, according to experts.
Wait-times for family-based immigration have jumped, with families having to wait months longer than they used to, according to a July interview on National Public Radio. The law establishing Balderas’ 20-year ban was signed by Bill Clinton in 1996. Though Balderas and Miramontes can apply for a waiver from the ban if they can show extreme hardship, the Trump administration has made that threshold more difficult to reach, according to an NBC news report.
Meanwhile Miramontes feels she is in an increasingly precarious situation raising three children on one salary along an often dangerous border.
“The best thing we can do is try,” Miramontes said.
In the realm of sacrifices Miramontes has made to stay with her deported partner — uprooting her family, crossing the border every weekend, risking Juarez’s crime — one more financial obligation and the risk of bureaucratic rejection perhaps doesn’t seem too daunting.
“Love will make you do some crazy things,” she said, “but it can also make you do some amazing things.”