Friday, October 12, 2007

Adventures in Immigration (Emigration??)

Larry left for Puerto Vallarta yesterday morning and I didn't have to drive him! Our Alaska Airlines pilot neighbor carted him along to the airport, even though that would put him there reeeeally early. Good thing. He needed every minute.

If you're a foreigner living in Mexico for more than six months at a time, you need an FM3 visa which is renewable annually. You're supposed to present it every time you leave or enter the country. That way they can keep track of the aliens in their midst. There's an immigration office in PV, and every year all us gringos head there to spend a day going through the renewal ritual to prove we live here and are not being a drain on society. It's a big fine if you let it expire. If you don't get it renewed, you are in the country illegally and are subject to a bigger fine and jail time. (I know this is like throwing red meat to hungry dogs for a lot of you. I'll leave the judgements to you guys. I'm supposed to stay calm, tranquil and stress-free these days.....oooohmmmmm).

I've never had a cashier cut up my credit card at the register, but Larry had a similar experience at the airport. The immigration folks confiscated his FM3. It had expired! Somehow in all the stuff that's gone on these last few months, we let that little "to-do" item slip right through the cracks! (Honestly, we thought they expired at the end of October, but turns out the clock started running from the time we hit the border for the first time -- a full month before we actually moved here!) He was told he couldn't LEAVE the country until he got the situation straightened out. Talk about a glitch!

He talked to the airline, and they called the immigration office in PV, which had, of course, closed for the two hour lunch break. But a supervisor there said they would write a letter giving Larry permission to travel this once, if he promised to take care of things when he returned. He hopped in a taxi, got there, beat on the doors, was waved away repeatedly until somebody tumbled to the fact that OH, this was the guy the phone call was about. Letter in hand, he made it back to the airport, through security and on to the plane just as the door was closing.

Then he ran into Homeland Security in Houston. They saw the Mexican visa taped into his passport indicating we are residents down here. They asked for his FM3 They DID NOT like the suspicious-looking letter presented instead. It was in SPANISH. They don't read Spanish. Had to find someone who DID read Spanish. And, by the way, Homeland Security people are pretty suspicious, as well, of Americans who choose to live abroad. Larry was the guy holding up the line until someone could be found that said -- yeah, it's a letter giving him permission to travel without an FM3. Under squinty-eyed scrutiny, he was admitted to the land of the free -- and made another mad dash for a plane whose door was closing.

So this coming week, while Larry is gone I'm heading to the immigration office to renew my FM3. Hospital bill in hand, I hope to prove I was "indisposed at the time of expiration." Does that sound right? Think I'll just leave it as written. Sounds like a good excuse to me!

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