Money, opportunity lure immigrants to Colorado, and many stay on
Sitting in his downtown Greeley apartment, Francisco Montes feels a lifetime away from his hometown on the Pacific Ocean in El Salvador.
Montes often daydreams about his favorite spot on the beach, where he would spend his free days listening to the waves break on the sand and leaves rustle in the wind as he dozed off in his hammock.
Montes is no prisoner. He knows he could be back at the spot in a less than a week if he decided. But it’s not that simple.
If he goes home, he’ll leave behind a construction job that pays four times as much as he could make at home, and a wealth of opportunities not available in El Salvador for his two small children who were born here.
Montes faces the same dilemma as millions of foreign-born in the U.S.: make money while living in a culture, language and climate sometimes uncomfortable to them, or return home to their comfort zone and live in poverty.
“I’m not here because I like it,” said Montes, 42. “I’m here because it works for me.”
Montes’ story reflects a common one in Greeley, Weld County, Colorado and the U.S. Even though the Honduran-born Montes is currently here legally (he has temporary protected status granted to him as Honduran refugee), he entered the country illegally in 1998 and has spent much of his time without proper documentation.
A study from the Pew Hispanic Center estimates that 10.3 million illegal immigrants live in the U.S, and between 200,000 and 250,000 in Colorado ” now identified as one of the growing destination states for illegals.
In 1998, Montes paid a coyote (a person who smuggles people across the U.S.-Mexico border) $4,700 to take him from El Salvador to Los Angeles. He’s been in the U.S. since, working in factories, slaughterhouses and construction.
Montes said if he could make half ” or even a third ” of what he makes in the U.S., he’d be on the first bus back to El Salvador. But, he says he would make, at best, $250 a month in El Salvador working construction or in other manual labor. Here, he makes about $2,500 per month at his construction job.
He uses that to supports his wife and two children here and also sends $350 a month to his mother and three sons (from a previous marriage) in El Salvador. He recently moved his family out of an apartment and bought a house.
His two small children ” 3-year-old Gabriela and 6-month-old Elian ” were born here and thus are U.S. citizens. He knows that returning to El Salvador would deprive them of educational, recreational and cultural opportunities not available in his home country.
As “anchor babies,” Gabriela and Elian can petition for their parents’ U.S. residency when they turn 21. Even though Montes may want to return home, the whole situation serves as a set of shackles that keeps him and his family in the U.S.
Montes doesn’t believe he’s done anything wrong. He’s helped build schools, prisons and office buildings throughout northern Colorado.
He’s worked continually since his arrival in 1998. He has a valid driver’s license, auto insurance and has never had trouble with the law.
He believes that he and other immigrants should obey laws. He gets upset when he sees other illegal immigrants drive without auto insurance and licenses, and change their names from year to year.
“We are in the country, we have to do what the laws tell us,” Montes said.
Yet, he doesn’t have health insurance even though his employer, Don’s Masonry in Loveland, offers it. He said the premium is too high.
Emergency Medicaid covered the expenses when his common-law wife gave birth to the couple’s two children in public hospitals ” the first at St. Anthony’s in Denver and the second at North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley.
The couple secured Medicaid, which covers the children’s medical expenses. The couple says it’s the only handout they take. Montes said he’ll risk his own health but doesn’t want to risk his children’s.
“If I could cover these expenses, I would cover them, but I have children in El Salvador that I have to help, too,” Montes said.
At the end of the day, Montes said he feels he’s contributed more than he’s taken.
“I think with what I’m doing, I’m not hurting anyone,” Montes said. “And I might be doing something that others might not want to do.”
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