EL PASO — For the past three years, business owners of Ciudad Juárez have been living in fear of being victims of the violence taking over their city. According to the Juárez Chamber of Commerce, more than 10,000 city businesses have closed in the past three years due to the violence in the city.
In an atmosphere that prevents any business from growing, some entrepreneurs have decided to look for better opportunities in the United States.
Total of Immediate Relative (IR) Visas Issued to Mexicans 2001-2010.
That is the case of Inglés Individual, a franchise of schools of English that will open its doors in El Paso in July.
“If the situation wouldn’t be so difficult in Juárez, I would have stayed there,” said Gustavo González, who founded Inglés Individual in November 1985 along with his siblings, wife and sisters in law.
González is currently searching for a spot in the east side of town to open the business. He plans to invest an estimated $300,000 in the business here.
Until now, there has been only one branch of Inglés Individual in the United States, located in Houston. Throughout México the institute has branches in Chihuahua, Torreón and Tijuana. In 1993, Inglés Individual became a franchise, which allowed for faster growth within the entire country. By 2000, there were more than 80 franchises throughout México. Juárez currently has three Inglés Individual schools owned by the Gonzalez family.
“The first point is to open an institute here in El Paso, maybe two more. One by one then we’ll think about the second and the third,” González said. “Then we want to expand a bit more but under the franchise system, it will become complicated because of the licenses. To begin this franchise system I don’t see more than a five year waiting period, three I believe.”
As the violence increased, the number of students in Juárez dropped and that was the deciding factor for moving to El Paso, González said. On average, the institutes of Inglés Individual located in Juárez would register approximately 30 students per month. That number dropped to barely 10 students signing up.
“Since three years back sales have dropped considerably, to the extent that we can no longer sustain ourselves,” said González. “We never thought we would have to close. We have been operating for 25 years.”
González decided to leave his life in Juárez to start a new one in El Paso about six months ago. He entered the United States through family sponsorship. In his case, his daughter who is over the age of 21 was able to petition residency for both Gonzalez and his wife.
“We were lucky that my daughter turned 21 and could petition for us. We have been here six months and my papers will be arriving soon,” he said.
This is one of the three ways to obtain a permanent residence through an immediate relative. American citizens can also petition for their spouse, or if they have an unmarried child under the age of 21.
According to reports from the Bureau of Consular Affairs website, a total of 43,340 Immediate Relative visas were issued in 2010 to people coming from México. Of those green cards, 12,248 were issued to parents of US citizens who were at least 21 years of age.
Humberto Guerrero, an immigration lawyer whose clients are mainly Juárez businessmen trying to open a business in the U.S., said the number of petitions have remained the same compared to the years in which violence did not exist.
“As soon as the U.S. citizen child turns 21, the parents want to initiate the process. That has not changed,” said Guerrero. “However, I have seen an increase in work and investor visas from Mexican individuals from various regions of México. This may be related to the violence in México in general.”
Persons approved for immigrant visa through family petition have the same rights as U.S. citizens, except that they cannot vote or hold jobs designated for U.S. citizens. However, they can request a permit to be able to work in the United States. This permit arrives about five months after the application have been filed, even before the interview for approval of residency.
Gonzalez said that, like him, many people from Juárez have come to El Paso simply because their sales are falling. “I have the mentality to come here since the sales began to fall over there. I have to find another way of doing business,” Gonzalez said.
It is not only business owners who feel the drug war has forced them to change their lifestyle and flee to another country. A study conducted by the Universidad Autónoma de Ciudad Juárez (UACJ) to measure the perception of insecurity among the Juarenses found that 55 percent of the population would leave the city if they had the opportunity to do so.
Since Mexican President Felipe Calderon declared war against drug cartels, more than 7,000 people have been killed in Juárez. According to the UACJ study large percentages of people have stopped going out at night, carrying money or jewelry with them, going to the movies and even have stopped visiting friends and family because of their fear of being caught in the middle of crossfire.
A definite ending to the violence in Juárez seems distant. Business owners, as well as families, are looking for different ways to come to the United States legally to escape the violence in Juárez. Inglés Individual, as well as other concerns, restaurants, and stores are coming to El Paso to offer the services their country of origin is preventing them to do.
“I know a lot of people that come fleeing to El Paso. We practically started from zero here in El Paso but we had to take advantage of the opportunity of my daughter petitioning for us. We cannot wait for something to happen to us or to our family,” Gonzalez said. “Juárez is about to become a ghost town.”