Native of Mexico overcomes obstacles to visit dying father in Sunnyside

When Patricia Benitez learned her father was terminally ill, she immediately set about leaving her community of Alfaco Mulco Estado in Mexico to come be at his side at Hillcrest Manor in Sunnyside. Little did she know she'd have to overcome numerous obstacles just to get here.

When Benitez set out for Washington state, she first made a stop at the Mexican Consulado, where they told her she could come stateside for as long as a year. But when she made it to Tijuana, immigration officials at first denied her access to the U.S.

"They kept turning her back," explained Ofelia Espinoza, a volunteer at the rehabilitation center who spoke on behalf of Benitez, who doesn't speak English.

Espinoza said immigration officials denied her access to the U.S. three days in a row, despite letters confirming Clemento Benitez's terminal illness from a Sunnyside physician and Hillcrest Manor.

In Tijuana, Benitez stayed at a shelter for immigrant women for three nights. On the fourth day, Espinoza said that immigration officials allowed her access to the U.S., but only for one month. When Benitez protested that she wanted to stay by her father's side through the end of life process, Espinoza said they had a "take it or leave it" attitude.

Once immigration officials gave her the go ahead, she then went to a bank in Tijuana to pay the visa fees. As she was leaving the bank, Benitez was mugged. "They (the muggers) took her purse and what money she had," Espinoza said.

Thankfully, she had her visa and papers in a separate folder, which the muggers failed to take from her, Espinoza said.

The elder Benitez then wired his daughter $200 to help get her to the United States, but it was with great trepidation.

"Her father was scared for her safety," explained Espinoza. She added that he then tried to tell his daughter to return to her community in Mexico. "She couldn't do it," Espinoza said. "She wanted to be with her father."

Exhausted, scraped and bruised, the younger Benitez then set out on a long journey via a Greyhound bus.

As she began her bus ride, Benitez had a nagging bad feeling that something was wrong. Then she realized she had left her folder at the bus station.

"She asked the bus driver to turn back so she could get it and he said no," said Espinoza.

The folder held her necessary paperwork to come into the United States.

"He told her she could report it and hope and pray no one else picked it up," said Espinoza.

After her long journey on the Greyhound bus, Patricia Benitez finally made it to her father's bedside.

And within a few days, good news came when the Greyhound bus stop in Sunnyside at The Outpost called to say a package was awaiting her. Espinoza and Benitez then went and picked up the folder, and she finally had access to her one month visa.

Espinoza said that the Hillcrest Manor community and community members have stepped up to the plate to help Benitez. She is being provided shelter via a bed next to her dying father, as well as meals. For bathing and laundry, she goes to Espinoza's home.

Espinoza said what Benitez needs now is an advocate: someone to plea on her behalf to immigration officials to allow her to stay until her father passes away.

"My main concern is if anybody can help her with her visa," said Espinoza. "We need to keep her here, we need to."

If she doesn't get her visa extended, she must leave on April 8.

Benitez was emphatic that she has no other reason to be here except to be by her father's side.

Through Espinoza, Benitez said, "The only reason I'm here is because I'm here for him."

Benitez wants what the Mexican Consulado told her she would have: a year in the United States.

Said Espinoza, "If he lives a year, it will be a miracle. But the Lord has the last word."



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