Do you ever sit in a park or on a crowded bus and watch as people come and go, wondering to yourself, “what is their story?” Well, sometimes that story comes right up to you to ask how your meal was. One of my favorite places to people watch is a local Mexican restaurant downtown Cedar Falls called Los Cabos. I’m drawn to their outdoor patio, margaritas, chicken milanese and friendly servers. One server in particular has always stuck around a little while longer to ask how things are going. Andres, or Andy, is an extraordinary server, engaging me in conversation beyond my dinner plate. Over years of small talk, our friendship grew. We bonded over our love for running, traveling and our German ancestry. But by the end of the night, I can’t help but ask myself, “what circumstances lead our lives to be so incredibly different?”
Andy’s family comes from Germany, and moved to Mexico City where Andy was born shortly after. As a senior in high school, Andy came to the United States for the first time as an exchange student. A year later he returned to Mexico City, eventually acquiring an Electrical and Mechanical Engineering degree at Universidad Iberoamericana and went on to pursue a successful career with an international company based out of Mexico. His job took him all around the world including a four year stint in the United States. Andy always felt at home in the United States, fondly recalling the hospitality and how safe he felt.
In 1994 Andy’s life changed. He met Letty, a stunning and compassionate woman, while working out at a German gym. They bonded quickly over their common love of outdoors and athletic competitions. On October 27, 1995, Letty joined Andy’s side as his beautiful wife.
Andy’s work had him traveling often, which only bonded them more. Letty joined Andy on trips as often as possible, as they enjoyed getting away from the noisy and hurried way of life of Mexico City. Often times work trips turned into opportunities to hike and explore new regions. They enjoyed their comfortable, modest lifestyles.
As Letty and Andy began to plan their future, one thing became obvious: they couldn’t picture raising a family in Mexico. Over milanese one evening, Andy told me a story where he was robbed at gunpoint, and another of Letty being followed and chased off the road on several occasions. Andy’s car had been stolen twice and broken into multiple times, but even more so, their trust in their city was broken. When Andy received an opportunity to work in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 2003, it was an easy decision. The couple decided to trade a comfortable financial lifestyle in for a less prosperous but safer and simpler life in Iowa.
Their lives were exactly as they had hoped. The trade for safety and comfort verified their decision to come to the United States. They enjoyed being able to run often, competing all around the United States. Both Letty and Andy completed Iron Man Triathalons, a 2.4 mile swim, a 112 mile bike ride, and a 26.2 mile run, back to back with no breaks.
After a 3 year period of employment, Andy’s work Visa was up for renewal. Andy proved himself to be a valuable employee so they extended his Visa for 3 more years. During this time, Letty and Andy were blessed with the birth of their first and only child, Mia.
Andy continued to excel in his career and was promoted to sales manager. After six years of employment with the company, his contract expired, leaving him vulnerable to deportation. Thankfully, Andy had many job offers and companies willing to sponsor the renewal of his Visa. Andy accepted a job with an insurance company in 2009, but had to wait to start working until his paperwork was processed and his Visa renewed. 3 years, 10 months, and 8 days later and he is still waiting. The wait for his renewed Visa became unbearable. Having depleted their savings account, Andy was forced to go find any job that would help him support his family. He found a job waiting tables at Los Cabos, and while he believed it to be temporary, I’m thankful because that is how our paths crossed.
His commute to Cedar Falls is over 60 miles each way. Commuting six days a week left him little free time. In order to gain some free time, Andy found work during the week at a restaurant in Cedar Rapids in 2013. Even with Andy working as hard as he can, his family is trying to live off a fraction of what they did in Mexico. They’ve been trying to teach Mia the difference between “want” and “need,” and these days there’s not much they can give Mia from the “want.” Even though Iowa has one of the lowest costs of living in the United States, their daily living costs are supplemented by Andy’s mother’s generous gifts.
In In 2009, Andy’s mother called with the worst news a son could hear. His father was dying. With Andy’s Visa stuck in limbo, he had no choice. His father left the earth without being able to say goodbye to his son.
As history often does, it is looking to repeat itself. Andy’s mother calls him daily, beckoning him home to her side. She is withering away as a digestive disease slowly weakens her. Too frail to fly, she is trapped in Mexico. A prisoner to a broken immigration system, Andy is trapped in the United States. As Andy was telling Audrey and me this, he tried very hard to hold his tears back, and so did we.
How did this happen? How did something so reprehensible happen to someone so undeserving? How did a legal, tax paying, social security wielding immigrant end up so far off track? He and his family have done everything legally, trying their hardest to follow their dreams.
Andy and Letty are coming up on 10 years in the United States this May. Their biggest fear is that one of them will be deported as they wait for their papers. Mia, being a citizen, would likely require one of her parents to stay, but as often happens, only one parent would be deported. At a time when Andy’s career should be thriving and nearing the age of planning for retirement, he’s barely scraping by. He dreams of the day when he has a job that can use the skills he’s trained for, where he can work 9 to 5 and have time to spend with his family. Where he would have time to go on runs and compete again. Where he would have the time, money and freedom to travel between the United States, Mexico and Europe. Until then, he is trapped in a proverbial purgatory, patiently waiting for someone somewhere to sign off on his Visa. Waiting while his mother is dying, while he grows closer to the age of retirement, while his family grows poorer, and while his daughter grows older.
I would’ve never known any of this by Andy’s attitude. He always holds his head up high, greeting anyone with the biggest smile and handshake when they come in to dine. All I want is for Andy to get what he deserves. To be a citizen of the United States, a place he so lovingly calls home, yet the very place that has so severely let him down.
This is my plea for help against Andy’s injustice. I have looked into how to help Andy get his papers moving in the right direction. I have made phone calls and done research online, but everything I come up with is a dead end. So here I am, doing the only thing I know how to do, hoping someone out there knows how to help.
If you know ANYTHING about the legal process of becoming a citizen or how to speed up the process, PLEASE comment below! Share this story with anyone who might know what to do! Timing is everything, this must be settled ASAP!
Story by Tim Dodd and Audrey Kittrell