Colonia Muñiz is the third stop for a series of Guardian dispatches about the lives of people trying to make a life in places that seem the most remote from the American Dream. According to one measure, the US Census Bureau’s American community survey 2008-2012 of communities of more than 1,000 people – the latest statistics available at the time of reporting – the median household income was just $11,711 a year, putting it among the four lowest income towns in the country, and has since fallen to $11,111. Nationally it was $53,915 in 2012.
In Colonia Muñiz, more than 60% of households fall below the poverty line, including all of those headed by single mothers with children at home. About a third of the workforce is unemployed, although even for those with jobs their work is often seasonal and fails to provide a steady income.
In much of the US, the American Dream is often regarded as a birthright. For many who live in Colonia Muñiz, it is a symbol of hope but also a reminder of their second-class status and their complicated relationship with the US. “As a child I didn’t feel good because I wished I was an American but I’m not,” said Maria. “What Obama has done is good and I’m proud the United States has helped us. It is a good country. But I want it for my parents too.”
That may yet happen. Under a more recent presidential executive order, undocumented parents of US citizens and legal residents can now also apply for protection from deportation and a work permit. That includes Vallejo, who has two children who were born in the US. The order does not cover the parents of those who have applied under the earlier order, such as Maria. But her brother in Florida now has permanent residence, a green card. That should open the path for Theresa and Emilio if politics doesn’t get in the way.
The programme is on hold after Texas and 25 other states launched a legal action to challenge the president’s authority to issue the order, although more than 100,000 permits were already issued before the legal intervention. Theresa is waiting. She has a wood burning oven in her backyard on which she cooks Mexican food. “I want to be able to put up a sign in front of my house: tamales for sale,” she said. “I cannot do it now. Immigration may see it and come and ask questions. But one day I will do that, thanks to Obama.”