Fighting with Bureaucracy, Oaxaca City Style

9 Nov

It´s a bit confusing to have a daughter with dual citizenship, and it´s about to get more complicated, with a new kiddo born here soon. Lucia was born in Kentucky and moved down here at 7 weeks of age. We barely managed to get her US passport, her birth certificate, and her Mexican birth certificate from the consulate while we packed up and sold all our stuff and learned how to be new parents at the same time. It was a whirlwind, but we made it.

Lucia and I both entered Mexico on a 6 month tourist visa, although we knew we´d need to sort out that situation for both of us sooner or later. We´ve been out of Mexico enough times so far that it hadn´t been a problem, until this last trip when her tourist visa was expired by one day. They wouldn´t let us get on the plane in Mexico City until we sorted it out with immigration there, which is a totally different epic story. Luckily I had her Mexican birth certificate and other relevant documentation, and we did make it to the plane on time. But they warned me then that we had to sort out her status before her next tourist visa expired.

Apparently, the way to sort it out is by obtaining her Mexican passport. So even though technically she is already a Mexican citizen by virtue of her Papi´s citizenship, we still needed another document. I put it off and put it off, because Mexican passports for children under 3 years old only last one year, so it´s a lot of hassle and money for something very temporary. On top of it only lasting a year, the three of us all have to be present in Oaxaca City to get her passport. So what would only cost about one day´s salary is really a multi-day expensive trip, including me having to take off of work unpaid for 2 days. And it has to get done before her latest tourist visa expires in a couple weeks, or we would be fined.

The good news was that we worked it out to get a ride with a good friend of Conan´s who had some business to take care of in Oaxaca City this Thursday and Friday, and we have a fabulous family friend who lives there who was willing to put us up for free and keep us company to boot. I got the official permission to miss work on those days, prepped my classes accordingly, got us packed during my break on Wednesday, and was feeling pretty optimistic about the whole situation when I walked out of work right at 7pm, where I was going to get picked up so we´d arrive in Oaxaca City around 2 or 3 AM.

There had already been some obstacles that I hoped we had overcome, but that I was still nervous about. First off, to provide identification for a two year old, you have to get a special note from their doctor, with the doctor´s signature on top of the photo and some other special details. Nevermind that my child already has a US passport, it has to be the doctor´s note to prove it’s her (bureaucrat logic). Since we don´t have a doctor we like to take her to regularly in Puerto yet, our only option was to either bribe a doctor, or go to the doctor that knows her in Juquila (a 3 hour venture from home). We went to Juquila for Day of the Dead last weekend, so we thought we´d get it then. But her doctor said he wouldn´t have time to do it till Monday afternoon. Paulina said she’d send it to us in one of the vans that go from Juquila to Puerto, but I was terrified it wouldn´t be how we needed it and we’d be scrambling at the last minute to bribe someone in Puerto. But we got it on Tuesday and it appeared to have all the requirements listed on the internet, so I was hopeful.

My other big fear was over our appointment. When I went to make it online, I had to put in a CURP (Clave Unica de Registro de la Población, sort of like a Social Security Number in the US). We haven’t gotten Lucia’s CURP yet, so I asked the online help line if I could put in my CURP to make the appointment.

“No,” Marta or somebody told me, “it must be the CURP of the person the appointment is for.”

Breathing deeply, I argued my case. “But they told me when I called for information that we didn’t need her CURP to get a passport.”

She wrote back, “Correct. You don´t need it for the passport. You need it to make the appointment, which you must have in order to get the passport.”

“So I can’t actually get her passport without her CURP then.” I gave up on Marta and her online unhelpfulness and tried to call the 800 number to make appointments. The nice guy on the phone let me make the appointment with my CURP. But I was still crossing my fingers they wouldn’t turn us away at the door for using my CURP instead of Lucia’s. After all, we are talking about bureaucrats, who I often believe are not in their human form while on the job.

But there we were, ready to go, múltiple copies of everything filed away, pretzels and oatmeal cookies for the road, and the first glitch happened. I walked out of work and Carlos’s car was nowhere to be found. Conan’s phone was busy. Not a good sign.

“Carlos is going to Oaxaca next week, not tonight.” Conan announced when he called me a few minutes later. I still don’t know if Carlos changed his dates or Conan misunderstood or what exactly caused this glitch, but it didn’t matter because the result was the same- we didn’t actually have a ride to Oaxaca. I utilized all of my I-have-a-toddler-and-it’s-also-not-my-first-day-in-an-unpredictable-country skills to not have a panic attack. I did send my mom a message that was more curse words than real words, however, and then I continued to breathe.

We went and got tickets for tbe 9.30 PM van trip to Oaxaca City. It was just too risky to take our car on those winding mountain roads with zero preparation and zero extra time before our appointment the next morning if anything went wrong. The worst part about the van situation was that we now weren’t taking Lucia’s car seat. Partly because we didn’t have the money to buy her own seat and partly to not lug around a car seat in the city. I briefly entertained the super nervous Mommy guilt of “so if something happens to Lucia I have to tell the family it was because we didn’t spring for her own seat on the trip”…. and then I continued breathing and let it go.

We got to our friend Argelia’s house around 5.30 in the morning with no accidents and no major glitches, thank goodness. Except that I hadn’t slept at all, had only dozed for about 3 hours in that half-awake, making-sure-my-sleeping-kid-doesn’t-fall-out-of-the-seat way that parents do. But Arge’s warm reception and good conversation, combined with coffee I made stronger with Nescafe and a warm shower, did wonders for me, and we were ready to go to our 9AM appointment by 8.

We arrived early and waited in the first line, for the preliminary inspection of our documents. “This letter from the doctor isn’t right,” the woman told us, and I almost stopped breathing. “Where did you get this? You didn’t get the format from here, did you?” She asked, showing us a generic example format for the letter.

“No,” I explained, “We got the requirements from the website. And I called and talked to the Subdelegada who told me that all the requirements were the way it is detailed online. That example format is not online.” Did they really expect people to travel from all over the state just to pick up an example form, travel back to their town and show it to their doctor and then make the journey all over again? You just can’t be sure about these people. I mentioned that we’d come from Puerto Escondido, that I’d taken off work for two days to be there, just in case there was any bit of sympathy in her little bureaucratic heart. “I’ll go check on it,” she told us, only a little reluctantly.

“Okay, you can use it,” she told us when she came back to her post. She gave us another form to fill out and sent us to go fill it out on a bench. She did not give us a pen (but I always have about 10 in my purse, so no glitches there).

After filling out the form we went and stood in line at a different counter. I realized the appointment thing was only another excuse for them to turn people away, and did not signify anything in terms of when our paperwork would be seen. But it was our turn pretty quickly with Mr. Grumpy Older Guy, and the process continued. We started signing and fingerprinting and all that other good stuff. It seemed that things were going smoothly until we got to the backside of the form, almost at the end.

“I need the father’s birth certificate,” Mr. Grumpy announced.

“What?” I hoped that I was hallucinating that. Surely he’d said something else, because there was no indication or mention anywhere about bringing Conan’s birth certificate. Not in the online requirements. Not in the two phone calls I’d made to ask specifics about our situation. Not in the online help center chats. I most certainly did not have Conan’s birth certificate with me.

“You have to prove the little girl’s right to Mexican citizenship.” he explained. I guess the Mexican birth certificate was not enough.

“I have his Mexican passport!” I announced hopefully, smiling a tense, clownish version of a smile.

“Let’s see it.” I handed it over, along with the copy I’d made (yay for being prepared!). Mr. Grumpy pulled out his white out and started blanking out the numbers of Conan’s other ID on the form. He let it dry and tried to write in the passport numbers in its place. It looked messy. He frowned harder. “No, it’s no good,” he said, and I held my breath again. “You’re going to have to fill out the form again.”

Once I realized that we just had to redo the form and not this whole trip I proceeded to breathe and went to go rewrite the form. I finished that and we got back in Mr. Grumpy’s line, beginning the fingerprinting and signature thing anew. Finally we successfully completed that round and Mr. Grumpy smiled at us and sent us to the next step- the photographing area.

We’d already gotten Lucia’s photos made but in that room we did digital fingerprinting and signatures. Then we got sent to the next counter and turned it all in to a different lady and another inspection. “Come back at 1PM to pick up the passport,” she said, and my heart did a little dance of joy.

We had breakfast and strolled around Oaxaca’s pretty downtown with Argelia to pass the time. We returned to the office shortly before one and approached the final counter. The lady handed Conan the passport, telling him to make sure it was correct, and then sign that he’d received it. Then I looked at it and was about to sign when she said, “Oh, wait, let me go check on this problem.” I breathed deeply. The passport was already printed and ready to go- what could be the problem now?

“Can I see your identification again?” she asked wheen she came back. I handed over both my passport and my permanente resident card. “Ah, yes.” she said, almost to herself. “Here’s the problem.” She pointed severely at my signature on the the form we’d filled out twice that day. “Look at this.” I looked. It looked like my signature. I was sure I had been the one to sign it. I nodded. “Now look at this.” She pointed at my signature on Lucia’s Mexican birth certificate that I had signed over two years before. Also definitely me that signed there. I nodded again, without a clue what her point was, but understanding that I was in trouble for something. Sloppy handwriting? I waited for the punchline.

“They look nothing alike. Can’t you tell?” I think I just looked at her, unsure what I was supposed to do. It’s true that I have a sloppy signature that I rattle off quickly, the letters not forming their true cursive form, and that is never, ever exactly the same. It always has enough resemblances, though, that I’ve never been questioned before. But Ms. Patient Teacher was not pleased with me.

“Okay,” I told her, like I’d learned my lesson. “Sorry. You see how it is a bit different on both of these IDs, too.” All of them were my signature, though, was my point.

“Well, to prevent the theft of children these signatures have to match,” she told me. “You’re going to have to sign here,” she pointed to the place beside my unacceptable signature on the form, “exactly like you signed here.” She pointed to my signature on Lucia’s birth certificate. “If you can’t sign it the same then we’ll have to do all of this all over again.” I’m pretty sure all the color drained from my face.

“But here,” she said cheerily, “I’ll make you a copy of this form with your correct signature and you can practice it.” And I practiced. And practiced. And every single signature looked different, like always. Argelia tried to help me trace over the copy, but the light wasn’t good enough to trace effectively.

I practiced some more. I shed a few furious, frustrated, sleep-deprived, indignant tears. “This is so ridiculous!” I raged quietly to Conan. “I have multiple forms of ID. They watched me sign the form. They have my fingerprints. My child is here calling me Mommy. And I’m not going to get her passport because I can’t appropriately forge my own signature!”

Some of my 80,000 attempts to write my own signature "correctly"

Some of my 80,000 attempts to write my own signature “correctly”

Finally I managed one that I believed looked more or less like the target signature. I went to ask Ms. Patient Teacher if it would pass. She went to get approval from her boss. I got the ok. I got a no on whether I could just cut and paste the approved signature. I had to reproduce it on the correct form. I tried to continue breathing and not cry. I practiced it some more, trying to copy exactly what I had done, the slowest form of my signature ever. At last I announced that I was ready to try it on the real thing. If it didn’t work, I supposed we’d come back the next day and try again. I was out of energy.

I signed next to my inappropriate signature, slowly and steadily. And then I had to sign exactly the same again to say that I’d received the passport. I got a bad start the second time and had to lift the pen and take some deep breaths before I could continue. I hadn’t been prepared for the second one. But I signed it, and Ms. Patient Teacher went to go see if it was okay or not. I held my breath.

She came back and handed me the passport. “Here you go. Bye.” And that was that. I was actually in possession of Lucia’s Mexican passport. A miracle had happened. It was over, and we accomplished the feat we’d set out to accomplish, despite all the unexpected demands and absurd obstacles. It was another win for humanity, another triumph over mindless, cruel bureaucracy. Granted, they got a point or two in for my near panic and those couple of tears shed, but we walked out of the office in just one day with our desired document in hand. And now I have several months to keep practicing my signature before we have to go back and do it again. Bring it on, bureaucracy, I am ready for you now.

TA-DA! Mission accomplished! Dual passports for our first little dual citizen!

TA-DA! Mission accomplished! Dual passports for our first little dual citizen!

2 Responses to “Fighting with Bureaucracy, Oaxaca City Style”

  1. blueskywoman November 10, 2014 at 6:17 am #

    Holy moley…what a bureaucratic pain in the butt! Very good of you to soldier on, m’dear! Hugs…


    • exiletomexico November 10, 2014 at 8:18 am #

      Thanks, Kirsty!
      Not much choice but to soldier on, right? Courage by force or something… haha..
      Hugs to you, too!

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