Fernandez-Vargas lives in Cuauhtemoc, a city of 150,000 people about 45 miles southeast of Chihuahua City. Farmland and Mennonite camps surround the town named for the last Aztec emperor.
Work is sporadic. He had a job with a crew renovating a soccer stadium but quit after refusing to climb to the top of a scaffold to paint without safety equipment. His pesos for the week amounted to $3. He parks cars on occasion for an acquaintance. His wife can no longer afford to send him several hundred dollars a month. He's hoping to hire on at an apple orchard during the harvest.
He lives with two women and two girls in a light blue masonry house with concrete floors on land his father once owned. The refrigerator is mostly empty. A rooster, a couple of dogs and a cat with kittens scrounge for scraps in the muddy yard. Fernandez-Vargas does work around the house in exchange for a room. He's lost 20 pounds. His rheumatoid arthritis is acting up, and he is low on medication. His body was bruised when a truck hit him while he was riding a bicycle recently. He cries a lot. He's not sure how he is going to survive long term.
"If you don't have the money, you die here," he said.
Fernandez-Vargas spends many days climbing a sagebrush-covered hill above his house or reading on a broken-down couch in the unkempt yard. He has no friends. People laugh at his Spanish.
Fernandez calls him on her cell phone twice a week, hence the mounting stack of prepaid phone cards. Her husband always expresses his love for her and Anthony.
"I try to make him laugh as much as I can," Fernandez said. "Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't."
Fernandez-Vargas often sounds depressed. He tells her he is going to sneak back into the country. She talks him out of it. He says he doesn't want to live anymore, and he's getting a gun. She tells him that is the cowardly way out.
"It's not just your problem," she tells him. "It's our problem."
Somehow, though, Fernandez-Vargas intends to find a road back to the place he considers home."If I die, I don't want to be buried here," he said. "I told my wife I want you to cremate my body and take me back to Utah. That's where I want to be."
The new INS
The alphabet soup of the American immigration system can be confusing. In a nutshell:
There is no longer any agency known as U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service or INS. In March 2003, INS became part of the Department of Homeland Security and was split into two bureaus.
U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) handles investigations, detention and deportation operations and federal protective services.
U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for the administration of visa petitions, naturalization petitions and asylum, and refugee applications.
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