REYNOSA, Tamaulipas – Tom Kobylecky is a truck driver from Chicago. He lives in Reynosa, Tamaulipas, which has been his home for over ten years.

Indeed that ten-year period is in itself very significant because he has lived just across the border with his entire family for ten years on the advice of his immigration attorney.

After living in Reynosa for ten years, the Kobylecky family were beginning to see light at the end of the tunnel. His Mexican wife was waiting for an appointment at the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez to apply for legal residency.

Then along came the COVID-19 pandemic, and a series of administrative rulings by the Trump administration that have put dark clouds on the horizon. The most recent, a ruling that excludes U.S. citizens married to immigrants without a social security number to receive stimulus checks.

“I really haven’t been affected too much by COVID-19 other than having to spend extra money on feeding my kids all day which is usually fast food since I am having to run home for lunch to feed them and get then started on their lessons,” says the knight of the road.

His children who live in Reynosa are at home since the National Secretariat for Education ordered the closure of schools until June 1. Mexican schools, like their counterparts in the U.S. have been teaching via the internet as a pandemic-induced substitute for the closed classrooms.

A U.S. Postal Service employee, Rebecca Amirah Barragán, is a little more vocal: “I am a federal employee and considered essential and put myself at risk everyday just to get slapped in the face. It is like saying that we don’t count in this country but I pay a lot of taxes.”

She had been crossing the border daily from Reynosa but has since moved her U.S.-born children to the Rio Grande Valley. She visits her husband, who is still living in Reynosa, on weekends.

“My income hasn’t changed so it isn’t about the money to me. Sure, I could definitely use it but and I am a tax paying citizen with two U.s. citizen children living in McAllen,” she added with frustration.

Indeed, the stimulus program has been replete with controversy since its outset, accused by some of being a bailout to big companies even as one commentator put it: “Socialism for Big Oil.”

“My husband lives in Reynosa and we go over every weekend. We all lived there until August and me and the kids moved to McAllen. He only had a ITIN number because the IRS instructed us to get one so I can file taxes the correct way. He is in the process of applying for his permanent residency. We are doing everything right. It’s like we are being punished for doing the right thing,” concluded the frustrated postal worker.

Kobylecky, is well known to readers of the Rio Grande Guardian. This reporter first interviewed him in 2010 at his home in Reynosa. To keep his family together Kobylecky moved with his wife Yedid and his son Todd to Reynosa after Yedid’s application for residence in the United States was rejected by the Consulate in Ciudad Juarez after she admitted having returned to Mexico with her father was ill and subsequently reentering the United States to return to Chicago where she was living and working to send money home to her family in Cuernavaca.

That admission resulted not only in the rejection of her application by the immigration service – she was also banned from reapplying in the future. However, the couple never gave up hope, and two children more and ten years later, after hiring an attorney in California, they are hoping for a second interview in Ciudad Juarez and an eventual re-entry into life in the USA. The two youngest children, both born in Reynosa are U.S. citizens by virtue of their father having registered then in the U.S. Consulate in Matamoros.

Kobylecky and Barragán are just two of an estimated 1.2 million U.S. citizens with immigrant spouses who are administratively ineligible for the $1,200 checks and $500 per dependents under age 16, that the program targets.

“More than one million U.S. citizens, in states as far afield as California and Pennsylvania, have been blocked from receiving stimulus checks because they are married to immigrants who don’t have Social Security numbers. Some are frontline workers employed in hospitals, police departments and public transit,” says a recent article in the Los Angeles Times.

Kobelecky and Barragán are among countless U.S. citizens that have chosen to live in Mexican border cities in order to keep their families together while applying for resident status in the U.S. Living in Mexico entails many sacrifices, including poorer infrastructure and insecurity. The Mexican State of Tamaulipas even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic has languished for years under a Level 4, Do Not Travel Alert ranking imposed by the U.S. State Department. Currently under the Phase Three COVID-19 protocols, movement within the major cities of Tamaulipas are severely restricted.  

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