HIDALGO, Mex. — On a recent Sunday, almost a dozen family members gather at the home of their patriarch, 82-year-old Santiago Dominguez. His home is in the town of Tepeapulco, in the Central Mexican state of Hidalgo.
A lone portrait sits on a shelf of a dark haired young woman. It is Dominguez’s daughter.
“I thought she was only going for three or four years at the most, and then would come back,” Dominguez said in Spanish.
But it’s been 18 years since Rosa Fabiana left for Phoenix. She took her two young sons and crossed into Arizona illegally to join the boys’ father who was working there.
She’s hasn’t been home since, and she’s now 43 years old. Without papers, visiting Mexico was too much of a risk, since she might not make it back to her children in the United States.
“I got to the point where I told her, you know what daughter, we will never see each other again,” Dominguez said. He told her she should not feel guilty, that this was simply destiny.
But now Dominguez believes he might live to see his daughter visit after all.
The immigration reform bill in the Senate would allow millions of immigrants like Rosa Fabiana to apply for a provisional status that would give the right to legally work, and travel internationally.
“There’s hope, a hope that we’ve never had before,” Dominguez said.
It’s a hope felt all across Mexico.
A few towns over in Santa Barbara, Hidalgo, Catalina Cervera knocks on a neighbor’s gate to visit the adjacent house her younger sister Sandra abandoned 10 years ago.
Sandra used to live there with her three children, before they left to cross into the United States illegally.
The family's first stop was near Yuma, to pick produce, but in recent years they settled outside Phoenix.
In the years the family has been gone, people who are aware the family is away have stripped the house of everything valuable, even the roof, leaving just the skeleton.
“They took out the door, the windows,” Catalina observed in Spanish, as she looked over Sandra’s old house.
Catalina says she and her sister have felt impotencia, helplessness — they want to see each other, but can’t.
When Catalina Cervera looked into the requirements for getting a U.S. tourist visa a few years ago, she decided she wouldn’t qualify.
The State Department requires foreigners to demonstrate they have sufficient ties to their home country, and enough money to travel abroad.
“If we had a bank account, if we had a business, if we had any credit cards,” Cervera said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t have any of those things.”
Instead, back in 2006, Catalina wound up crossing the border without authorization in order to see her sister again. She stayed in Arizona for several months, but returned when her mother got sick.
Then, last year, when their mother was dying here, Sandra couldn't come back.
Another sister, Rosaura, who lives in Santa Barbara, Hidalgo, remembers when they held the phone up to her mother’s ear so she could hear Sandra say goodbye, “I could hear that my sister just cried and cried.”
But now the sisters have let themselves begin to daydream about the day Sandra and her children will return to visit the town, down to what their first meal will be here: enchiladas and tacos de barbacoa.
“They are motivated with the dream that this immigration reform is going to happen,” Catalina said of her relatives in Arizona.
But as Congress debates the legislation, the wait for these families continues.
Back in Tepeapulco, Polo Dominguez, brother of Rosa Fabiana who is in Phoenix, isn’t convinced a reform will really pass.
“Or if it happens, it will happen after such a long time that we wont live to see it,” he said.
In the meantime, his father, 82-year-old Santiago Dominguez, will continue to use the phone to stay in touch with daughter Rosa Fabiana. He has a tradition of singing her a ballad called Sin Ti, which translates to 'Without You,' with some small tweaks to the Spanish lyrics.
“Without you, what else matters if being far from you makes me cry,” his rich baritone sang in Spanish.
More than a thousand miles away, and across the border in Phoenix, his daughter has become an activist for immigration reform.
Rosa Fabiana said she wants the right to work legally in the U.S. and continue the life she has built here, but says she longs to hug her father and siblings.
“I want this to happen now because our parents’ lives won’t wait,” she said in Spanish.
If reform passes and Rosa Fabiana gains a provisional status that allows her to travel, she said the first thing she will do is buy a plane ticket to Mexico.
She wants to surprise her father with a mariachi band, and answer that ballad he’s sung to her for the last 18 years.
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