The Mexican locks eyes with the Border Patrol agent. Crammed in the car with him are four other illegal immigrants. Their smuggler is cuffed and on his knees in the grass along Interstate 75 just north of Tampa.
"Come with me to the back of the car," the agent commands each passenger in Spanish.
Everardo Lemus hesitates. He struggles to translate the words into Nahuatl, his native language. It is the language of both the once-majestic Aztec empire and his impoverished family in Cuautempan, Mexico. His village consists of a few dozen homes six hours' walking distance from the nearest telephone. His eyes water. He bites his lip.
Two years ago, as an 18-year-old, Lemus stared into the United States from the banks of the Rio Grande outside Laredo, Texas. Behind him, childhood. In front of him, a four-day desert crossing into a country where he risks arrest to pick vegetables, a place that both exploits and despises him. The plan was to be here about five years. Just long enough to save the $6,000 he needs to build a concrete house, no bigger than 1,000 square feet, on a little plot of land to farm back home.
Maria Elena would marry him either way. She doesn't care that a wooden home won't keep out the cold. That without a little land, her husband will spend his life working someone else's field for less than a dollar a day. She knows there will be times when there is food, and times when there isn't. That her children's pants will be patched and repatched as they pass from father to son to younger brother to youngest brother. She doesn't care that asking for charity stings.
But Lemus does.
"Yes, sir," he says, and takes his first steps toward home.