Susan Simental couldn't look more like an all-American 14-year-old. She wears a cap-sleeved T-shirt, stovepipe jeans and sneakers and has her hair in a ponytail. She likes disco dancing, and she does not have a boyfriend yet. And her English is immaculate.
The only difference is that she and her mother are in jeopardy of being sent back to Mexico.
The two came over from Chihuahua when Susan was 7 months old and have not returned in 14 years. "She wanted to get work here," Susan explains, translating for her mother, whose English is not good. "And she wanted to get away from over there."
Anastasia Simental, Susan's mother, has worked in the same Mexican-American restaurant in El Paso all those years. The boss knew she was illegal but did not care.
Susan went to a Catholic elementary school and is about to enter 10th grade at a public school. Ironically, she recently won a citizenship award. She looks proud when she says her grade average is A to B -- her favorite subject is mathematics. Her ambition: "I'd like to be an executive. I want to own my own business."
But all this could change if the judge at their deportation hearing rules that they must return to Mexico. Susan will have to go to a Mexican school and study in Spanish. She will have to cope with a way of life totally alien to her.
Asked what she thinkgs of Mexico, she shrugs and looks uncomfortable. She is upset and doesn't want to talk about it. Finally she says, "I feel American. I've never been to Mexico. Mexico scares me."
David and Rosa Lopez have also been in El Paso for 14 years. Rosa crossed the border with a local crossing pass, but never returned. David took the river route.
After their first several years here, they approached a notary public to try to legalize their status. They paid $400. He filled in some fake forms for them and sent them to an office where, he assured them, they could get U.S. passports.
It was the immigration office.
They were investigated and given three months to pack up and go. Now they have changed lawyers and are appealing their deportation, but don't have much of a case.
David Lopez has worked on a ranch and, for the last eight years, in a trailer park. "It's a better way of life here," he says. "The wages are better and the food is better.
"And jobs here are more secure," Rosa adds.
She sends $50 every few months to her grandmother in Mexico, and David gives his mother $10 to $15 every time she visits. "It makes a lot of difference because the exchange rate is so high," he explains. "Ten dollars is a lot of money in Mexico."
Though they don't want to return to Mexico, they are most worried about their three daughters. The girls are all U.S. citizens, and speak much better English than Spanish.
Rosa has been told that her daughters would not be accepted into Mexican public schools because of their citizenship, and private education would be very expensive.
The family has never had trouble with the Border Patrol. In fact, a patrol agent used to live in the same trailer park and David cut his grass. "I always wondered whether he knew or not," he says.
If they are deported, they say, they won't try to come back. David says he is very religious and a student of the Bible. "I wouldn't want to break the law again," he says.
Under the proposals of the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill Congress is wrestling with, the Simentals and Lopezes would be eligible for permanent residence in the United States and, after several years, to apply for citizenship.