Longform

ILLEGAL From Terry Greene Sterling

Page 7 of 10

Sometimes, families dropped by to send money home. Araceli and Inocencio made $5.00 on each remittance sent to Mexico. The way it worked, a family member picked up a special telephone behind the counter, which connected to an operator for the company that would wire the remittance to a relative’s bank account. Araceli would collect the cash, and write a receipt. Then later on she’d deliver the cash to a nearby bank, and the money would be wired to Mexico. The dollar store got $5 for every remittance a customer sent to Mexico. Araceli told me remittances were down about 40 percent since 2007. During the week I visited the store, three families sent a total of $1,000. The decline in remittances in the dollar store mirrored a national trend that showed the interdependence of Mexican and American economies. Migrants sent $26 billion home to Mexico in 2007, but as the American economy worsened and more migrants returned to Mexico, remittances shrank to $21 billion in 2009. The remittances sent home by migrants are critical to Mexico’s financial stability. Only two other industries, drug trafficking and oil, are as critical to the Mexican economy.

Araceli and Inocencio decided in 2009 that they would make more money if they kept the store open longer – from 7:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. every day but Sunday. This was hard on their two kids, nine-year-old Mitzi and seven-year-old Jack, who were confined to the store from school until bed time. Inocencio had yanked two seats out of his van, and arranged them in front of the small television in the stock room. From behind the stock room curtain, Jack watched TV and played video games.

Sometimes, he’d sneak onto the family’s Toshiba laptop and order games without his parents’ permission.

Mitzi wrote an essay about the store for me.

“The store looks big, huge, large,” she wrote. “It is a big place with many, many things in it. It is also a beautiful place.”

A few sentences later, she noted: “I kind of like the store but not too much.”

She wrote that she liked ringing up sales on the cash register and helping her parents stock shelves. She didn’t like being cooped up all day after school, or on weekends, unless her cousins visited to play. Her parents were nice, she wrote, but sometimes they treated her and Jack “like little babies.”

Mitzi believed her mother and father were overly protective.

Every day, Araceli didn’t just drop the kids off at school, she marched them into their classrooms. She was the only mom who did this, and it embarrassed Mitzi.

And at the store, Araceli frequently checked up on the kids in the stockroom.

What Mitzi didn’t know was that a thirty-nine-year-old Anglo registered sex offender came to the store frequently. He lived in the neighborhood, and immigrants who’d lived in the area for a while told Inocencio the guy was a sex offender and that some official had gone door-to-door warning people about him. I actually saw the sex offender in Inocencio’s store one day, buying a treat for a little girl who looked about five or six years old.

The scene bothered me so much I looked up the man’s court records. He was indeed a registered sex offender, and had served time in prison for molesting his nine-year-old stepdaughter. He was categorized in the sex offender registry as a category three offender, which meant he was very likely to reoffend.

He admitted on more than one occasion that he was a crack addict, according to his files in Maricopa County Superior Court. He was the father of two kids himself, and had signed them over to his mother and father, whom he lived with. He served time in an Arizona prison for robbing an old man at knifepoint. Another time, he was incarcerated for auto theft.

So, what was this self-admitted drug addict and child molester doing buying treats for a little girl in the dollar store? I asked Inocencio why he didn’t bring the matter to the attention of the police.

What he said speaks volumes about the consequences of law-enforcement officers, like Sheriff Joe, doubling as immigration enforcers. Inocencio had lost faith in the police.

Araceli had no papers. What if he went to the police and they deported his wife?

Inocencio made the mistake of calling police back when another Anglo guy had robbed him at knifepoint.

As a result, Araceli had been subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution at the upcoming trial. She didn’t want to testify, because she thought she might be apprehended when she went to the courthouse.

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Terry Greene Sterling