A long journey to citizenship
Perham resident is working to bringing wife, baby to the U.S.
PERHAM – Jose Urbano illegally entered the U.S. from Mexico when he was just 17 years old, he started out working in farm fields and barely spoke English.
The 50-year-old Perham resident would go on to become a U.S. citizen and a role-model father, and is now working on filing paperwork and paying fees to bring his wife to the northern Minnesota community he has called home for more than two decades.
Urbano’s journey to the U.S. all began when he was 17 and spent his savings to hire a coyote. Coyote is another name for a person who smuggles people across the border.
“It took one day and 20 hours,” Urbano recalled.
They traversed desert terrain and the trip was a “miserable” experience, he said. Upon entering the U.S., finding work was easy; farmers took migrants to farm fields where the fruits of their labor were paid for at a fraction of the cost of a legal worker.
“I picked grapes, peaches, nectarines; lots of different kinds of fruit,” he said.
For two years, Urbano was a dedicated worker. But he noticed the plan he made was full of errors. Had he come to the states legally, his pay would increase and benefits would be offered. So, he returned to Mexico and started over. He filed for a work permit and was accepted, but was told if he returned to Mexico, he could lose his work permit.
With a heavy heart, he hugged his parents, Rosa and Jubentino Urbano of Uriangato, Mexico, and went on the hunt for the American dream. He picked up the scent easily enough, as he grew up with a strong work ethic. While he plucked fruits from dawn until dusk, his evenings were spent in a two-hour English class. While such a schedule could break someone, the only complaint Urbano had of those years was the rainy days.
“When it rained, I couldn’t work,” he said. “Then, I heard about work indoors.”
A relative had made his way to northern Minnesota, where he found a land of opportunity — good-paying jobs with benefits and a welcoming community. While the frigid temperatures were intimidating, the possibilities helped him set aside his hesitation.
“It might be cold outside, but not inside,” he said.
Shortly after arriving, he secured a job at a turkey processing plant and later at Barrel O’Fun, which became Shearers Foods in 2016.
Love followed in time and he felt on top of the world. Urbano and his girlfriend welcomed two boys into the world before the bottom dropped out. He explained that his girlfriend left, which broke his heart. But, he didn’t have time to mourn the loss, as it was just him, two toddlers and an overnight job.
“It was hard,” he said, his voice shuddering at the memory. “There was a teacher who came to the house for an hour (during the day), and I was so tired, I would nod off. I felt bad, but I couldn’t help it.”
Through determination and a life he dedicated to his children, Urbano raised two bi-lingual boys, who are now teens, that mirror his work ethic. A smile crossed his face as he shared that one of his sons recently asked if he could get a job because he wanted to help the family.
“I said, ‘OK, but only if you continue doing good in school,’” Urbano recalled.
Urbano’s sons weren’t the only ones studying hard, he also dug into history books and citizenship study guides. While Urbano had received a green card by then, he decided to work for full citizenship. For three years, Urbano researched and reviewed history and laws while saving money to pay for legal fees and other costs associated with becoming a U.S. citizen.
“I had to take the (citizenship) test twice,” he said. “The first time I was so nervous and I was taking too long.”
The first go around, the judge asked Urbano if he knew English well enough to take the test. Urbano explained that he did, but the jitters made him feel like he had forgotten everything he learned. The judge suggested he chalk the first attempt up to experience and come back another time. Urbano took the advice. When he returned in October 2021, he passed the citizenship test. Paperwork was filed and his application was accepted.
“I was so happy,” he said.
Just when he thought his heart was full, it expanded. He had been introduced to Karla Berenice, a relative of a friend, several months before the citizenship test. And through FaceTime and phone calls the two fell in love. A courtship followed, along with trips south of the border.
Urbano, who is from Uriangato, Mexico, flew down to visit family and traveled six hours to see his girlfriend. Love bloomed resulting in the birth of Jose in November 2021. The little boy’s foot was turned in on one side, so Urbano made sure necessary funds were available for the needed surgeries.
During one of his visits to Mexico, he also brought his other sons to meet his girlfriend and their new brother. As they quickly bonded, Urbano stepped back and saw the happy family he had dreamed of.
“I told her we were destined to be together,” he said, and then proposed. She promptly accepted and the two were married in Mexico this past March.
Urbano returned to the U.S., leaving his wife and infant behind — temporarily. He contacted the lawyer who assisted him with the citizenship paperwork and explained he needed to hire him again. Paperwork was filed and applications were submitted for his new bride. (Because Urbano is a U.S. Citizen, his infant son can become one automatically.)
“After a few months, her application was accepted,” he said. “I was so happy; so happy.”
Now, Urbano is focusing on saving money to pay for fees and travel expenses for his wife and baby, which is about $4,000 just for the necessary documents.
He acknowledged having a family separated is not ideal or easy, as his heart aches every night when their daily phone call ends. But, much like the long wait he endured to become a U.S. citizen, he knows that waiting is the hardest part.