All day Monday, customers pulled up to La Hermosa food truck with a warm smile and congratulations for owners James and Nancy Cisneros.
Against almost impossible odds, and with tears of relief, Nancy returned to the United States this week as a permanent resident.
THE UNITED STATES
Born and raised in Mexico, Nancy knew as a young woman that she could not make a life for herself while staying at home. In an effort to escape poverty 20 years ago, Nancy trekked through the desert without the proper paperwork and crossed into the United States on a small boat.
While the trip itself was hard, the knowledge that she wouldn’t see her family again was even harder.
“Two years ago my dad died, one year ago my mom died, and I couldn’t go see them,” Nancy said. “I didn’t see them for 18 years.”
Nancy got a job at a fast-food Tex-Mex chain in Tulsa, where she was working when she met James.
They flirted for a while, and then went on their first date with James’ brother and sister-in-law. They fell in love almost immediately and were married a few years later.
Once their oldest son was born, Nancy decided to work in the home, supplementing the household income by making food for James’s coworkers.
The boys, ages 16 and 14 today, are both U.S. citizens, born and raised in Oklahoma.
Raising their American children has been difficult, the couple said, “because they think that they deserve everything.”
“They are not appreciative or grateful for the things they have,” Nancy said. “Here, sometimes think they deserve it all without lifting a finger.”
James, for his part, was born in Nicaragua, and traveled with his parents and brother to the U.S. at age 7. He grew up in Los Angeles, and as a young man moved to Tulsa, where he met and married Nancy.
The creation of DACA in 2012 gave James a path to citizenship, which he happily took. From beginning to end, it took four years of paperwork and background checks until James passed his naturalization test and because a U.S. citizen.
As a U.S. citizen, James was able to petition to have his wife and the mother of his children become a permanent resident.
“It is a long process,” James said. From filing his petition to arriving in Juarez, Mexico, was just under three years. “Money, time, stress. It was a long process.”
Mountains of paperwork and almost $6,000 in fees stood in the way. And as they worked their way through the process, they were haunted by the looming threat that with even a single mistake, Nancy would be separated from her husband and children for a decade.
“It was more stressful than when I gave birth to my two boys,” Nancy said, including that each was 16 hours of labor.
The first hurdle was a hardship waiver – a single document containing all the hardship and heartache that would be caused to James and the kids if Nancy were separated from her family for 10 years. “You have to convince them that it would be hard on you. If not, they deny you.”
The second hurdle was a one-way bridge.
“Going to Juarez … you’re not going with a 100 percent ticket that you’re going to come back,” James said.
The weeks leading up to their trip to Juarez were full of tears and sleepless nights, making contingency plans.
Nancy insisted James and the boys stay in the U.S. and continue their lives here, regardless of the outcome.
“There is no opportunity in Mexico,” Nancy said. “I didn’t want them to grow up without opportunity like I grew up.”
As James and Nancy got in the car, she showered her boys in hugs, afraid that it may be last time she would see them as children.
“She couldn’t contain herself, when we were crossing Zaragoza International Bridge to Juarez and it was Mexican soil, she couldn’t help but cry,” James said. “There was so much poverty, so many people begging for money, children working the streets.”
“Sometimes in our fridge, our food goes bad, and it’s sad that over there were begging for a plate of food,” Nancy said.
The visited a soccer field that was all dirt, no grass, and took a video of the kids playing in the clouds of dust to show to their children when they, hopefully, returned home.
“It seemed like there was a war, because every other building was empty, crumbled,” Nancy said. “Every restaurant, you had to take your own soap. Here, we don’t even value the soap we wash our hands with.”
As they traveled around Juarez during their 17 day stay, they gave 5 to 10 pesos to every beggar they encountered. A nominal quarter or half dollar in U.S. money was able to provide a meal.
Recounting the conditions to friends in the U.S. after she returned, Nancy said, “My Mexico is destroyed. It is sad. There is no hope.”
The U.S. consulate in Juarez was less than five minutes from the border.
“So close, but everything felt so far. You could see the United States,” Nancy said, but you couldn’t touch it.
Inside the U.S. consulate, nerves hit a boiling point. Applicants sat together in a large, quiet room, staring at a cloak on the wall and waiting for their turn to be called at three interview stations.
Six cases were in front of her that day. And Nancy sat with mounting anxiety as every single person in front of her was denied, including a single mother of six.
The agents grilled her for information on when and where she entered the united states; the exact hospital, date and time where her kids where born; the length of time she has been with and been married to her husband; and a mountain of other personal questions to which they already had the answers on their database.
During the interview, Nancy said, the agents never made eye contact. They stared at the screen, asking the question and listening carefully for exactly the right answer.
“The process is immaculate. It can never be corrupted. It has to be, not almost, perfect,” James said.
One mistake, one wrong answer, and every dream is dashed.
Standing outside the consulate for four hours, James saw many families leave the building pale, with faces that looked as if they were attending a funeral.
“When she got approved, and I saw her come out of the U.S. consulate smiling … Oh my God … I will remember that smile for the rest of my life,” James said, emotion welling in his voice. “We’ve waited for this for so long. We’ve been centering our lives around this singular interview for the last four years.”
Now that Nancy has her green card, she is free to travel back and forth between the two countries, and plans to take her children to visit their extended family as soon as possible.
The next family vacation will be to Nicaragua, to see the place where James was born.
“To show our kids where we came from,” Nancy said. “I would like to take them to Mexico to see what we have here in the U.S.”
Now that she is a permanent resident, Nancy said her next step is to become a U.S. citizen herself.
“I am thankful for God and the United States. I love everything about the U.S. I am so happy and blessed that my two boys were born on U.S. soil, because they have never gone through, and hopefully never will go through, what I’ve gone through,” Nancy said.