Citizen Limbo


The doorbell buzzes.

It is probably Alfredo, our neighborhood auxiliary policeman who is not so old but is missing a prominent front tooth. He visits periodically to collect our twenty-peso contribution to his force-of-one. More often, he drops by to ask for a donation to help him through the latest phase of his tragedy. His wife was in the hospital. His wife needed dialysis. His wife had to have her fingers amputated. His wife had died.

Now his grandchild is ill.

It is probably Alfredo, but I hope not (for his sake and mine). I hope it is the courier from the U.S. Embassy for whom we have been waiting for weeks. I hope it is certification of my baby’s U.S. citizenship.


W.—named for a character in a Carlos Fuentes novel—was born in December, right before Christmas, here in Mexico. As soon as offices opened again in January, we began our quest for a Consular’s Report of a Birth Abroad (or CRBA), a document that will serve as our Mexican-born son’s American birth certificate. At first we were put off because the application system was being overhauled and there was no interim process (a debacle I wrote about in an earlier post). This was mildly distressing: living in a state that the U.S. State Department periodically (right now, for example) deems unsafe for U.S. travelers, we didn’t like the idea of not having the option to return to the U.S., especially for the sake of our children. Of course, while our Mexican friends enjoy the joke about our needing to hire a coyote to go home again, it did feel a little like a suspension of the rights we assume we have as U.S. citizens. After our congressman got involved, we were provided with a phone number to call if we needed to return to the U.S. in a life-or-death situation. It was a step up from an email address.

Can you see it? Shit hits the fan and you sit down to write an email? It’s almost more ridiculous than hiring a coyote to cross. (Almost.)

And of course this minor delay is nothing in comparison to what one reads; but it all begs the question: when did banishing others trump protecting Americans?


The last week in February, we were given an appointment, not at the consulate in Guadalajara, but at the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City. With our fat dossier of ultrasounds, medical records, Mexican birth certificate, Acto de Nacimiento, passports, nonimmigrant visas, marriage license, a catalog of all trips taken out of the U.S., passport photos, photocopies of everything, and, to top it all off, the baby himself, we approached the barricaded building on La Reforma (not only is the building fortified, but in the median of the avenue that runs in front of the Embassy, two parallel chain link fences have been erected in the flower gardens. How or what this fences might be fending off in the westbound lane that wouldn’t just return in the eastbound at the next roundabout is hard to fathom.

Gringo-style, we arrived too early for our early morning appointment. Even so, along one side of the building, a line was forming. And it wasn’t short. We approached a guard at the access gate and asked if we should go in then, or wait until closer to our assigned time. He looked at our dossier and sent us to the front door. The line he guarded was for non-citizens applying for visas: the citizen-caste wait in line in chairs on the inside.

But first there was security. They threw away the unopened snacks we had brought to feed our older child if we needed, an odd choice since unfed toddlers are guaranteed to be terrorist (departing Ambassador Pascual obviously knows this since children are banned from his residence for security reasons—YES I’m mad I couldn’t go to the party). Then they confiscated the ultrasounds required for our application because they were DVDs. Then they gave us visitor tags to wear around our necks and sent us through the locked doors, upstairs, and into the first door on our right where we were checked in at a desk.

I was amused that none of this, nor any of the proceedings that followed, took place in English.

Regardless that we had, after so much effort, made an appointment, we were given a number and told to sit down. Time passed. Then the hour of the appointment passed. Eventually we were called to the agent seated in the window. Then told to sit down. Then called again.

Eventually, I stopped going up with my husband because my toddler was spinning out around the waiting room with another kid and I couldn’t understand the agent’s Spanish through the plexi-glass window anyway. More children arrived. Mostly babies, but older children too, and teenagers. My son ran laps around the seating area with a little girl dressed up in a red dress.

As it turned out, we didn’t have documents proving our residency in the U.S. (for everyone who assumed otherwise, it is not enough to be a U.S. citizen). This hadn’t been on the checklist of things to bring, and, anyway, who would know better when we have come and gone from the U.S. than the State Department, which has swiped our passports upon each entry and departure?

Apparently Social Security would know better. In the Social Security waiting room, even though numbers were issued, the guard insisted that everyone get up and scoot over to the next chair each time a new person was called. At the end of this, we were issued a printout of the years we had filed U.S. taxes. How this proved we were in the U.S., we didn’t dare ask, nor did we point out that the list included all the years that we have lived abroad.

Finally our application was deemed satisfactory and we were sent away. Leaving empty-handed, because now CRBAs, assuming the application would be accepted, must be printed at a U.S. passport office and shipped to Mexico, was more than a little bit anti-climactic. Our child remains undocumented.

At last report, the paperwork and passport had been issued. But they arrived at the Embassy damaged in some way. The paperwork has been resent. New documents should arrive, well, hopefully before the government shuts down this weekend and the nonessential people who handle whether or not someone can come home go home themselves.

Perhaps the bearer of these documents is ringing my doorbell right now…


But no, it is Alfredo, smiling at me, a bit shy. He asks, Señora, how are the children? He asks, Señora, does everything go well?

I smile, nod, mumble something nonsensical, and intentionally neglect to ask after his family.

It is awkward, but frankly Alfredo is the next best thing to the Embassy’s courier. Alfredo reminds me that my troubles are not troubles at all.

This entry was posted in Living Abroad, Mexico, Travel and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Citizen Limbo

  1. eva says:

    stumbled across your blog today. really enjoyed it. I’m from California and moved to Mexico 2 years ago with then my 13 year old daughter who is now 16. We live in San Miguel de Allende Guanajuato.
    Would love to email.

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