Paul Andersen: Fair Game |

Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

The nighttime hike across the desert was a trial because of the patrols and the surveillance systems. The coyote showed him and the other migrants the way, even though it cost almost everything they had.

As he stood at the border fence he thought of all that he was leaving behind ” family, friends, familiarity ” then he climbed the portable ladder, threw his duffel over the top, and jumped after it. He spent the next 12 hours on a long, bumpy ride in the dark box of a truck.

Mexico! Land of hope and opportunity, far from the strife of poverty, soup kitchens, bread lines, unemployment offices. Somehow he would adjust to the language and the culture and the paranoia. Such are the challenges for an illegal immigrant.

He mused that only a decade ago the stream of illegals had moved north. The irony of his reverse migration was shared during the desert crossing with another migrant, a man from Zacatecas, who had risked it all for his northbound odyssey, only to arrive in the U.S. during the Second Great Depression.

“I go to Texas,” he shrugged, “but no work. I go to St. Louis, but no work. I go to New York, but no work. Now I go back to Mexico. Farmeen ain’t so bad. At least you eat.”

In America, things had gone south ever since the housing crash of 2008. There were layoffs, plant closings, the end of cheap credit, the collapse of the dollar, the fall of the stock markets, the rising cost of everything. Then came energy shortages, gas lines, rationing, food scarcities. It was a far cry from the America he had grown up in.

Even in Aspen, where he had lived the good life for 10 years, things fell apart as the luxury ski vacation became an iconic poster image of the opulent past. The first thing to go was construction when funding dried up on resort developments. Then the serial home market crashed, and that’s when real estate went belly-up.

Next to go were the big hotels with all their expensive overhead. Then came a winnowing of fancy restaurants where nobody could afford to eat. The death knell for Aspen’s tourism came with the paring down of ski areas to fit a decreasing skier base. Lifts were closed, then whole ski mountains.

He had worked in property management maintaining a dozen second homes. When the owners no longer came, they told him to drain the plumbing, turn off the heat, board up the windows, and cancel all services. Many of these abandoned homes were looted. Windows were broken by squatters.

Aspen became deathly quiet, so people began to leave. Some joined the throngs at government relief centers in overcrowded cities. Others sought border crossings into Canada and Mexico, where there were still jobs. Mexico was preferred by many because it was warm and sunny, so there was a stream of refugees heading south. Crossing into Mexico was tougher than Canada because of the fence. It had worked against the northern flow, and now it worked against the southern flow. The coyotes worked either direction, so he paid his money like the others and crossed.

He had a friend in Cozumel who had done landscaping in Aspen. Vito told him about a job washing dishes at a restaurant in Playa del Carmen where they didn’t check work permits. The pay was $2 an hour. He roomed there with several other illegal Americanos, jammed into a crackerbox shack.

He washed dishes for three weeks before the police raid. La Migra deported him to San Antonio, where he spent a week finding another guide south. This time he went to Baja and found work in La Paz detailing cars and repairing fishing boats.

But there’s not a day that he doesn’t fear deportation. Going back to America means a step backward, so he’s just hoping to earn enough pesos to get by until he can find a work permit, learn the language, maybe send for his family one day.

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