They live and die in the United States, but for the families of many Latin Americans, burial must be in their home country. It is a journey that can be delayed for months by the expensive and confusing process of negotiating international borders.
Now, a Mexican insurance company is selling low-cost policies to Latin Americans, promising to pay to embalm a body, get it to even the remotest of home towns and pay funeral costs.
With offices in Mexico City and Lynwood, Calif., Grupo Servicios Especiales Profesionales offers three-year policies for $30. Since the first offering more than three months ago, the company says it has attracted 30,000 clients and sells 80 to 90 policies a day.
"We will take them to the cemetery where their grandparents or parents and all their loved ones are and the cost is zero," said Gabriel Monterrubio, vice president in charge of the company's Mexican operations. "The families are sad, but they are not debilitated economically."
Dozens of other companies have offered similar transportation services, but not in the form of insurance. They can charge thousands of dollars to ship a body home.
All Latin American migrants are eligible for coverage, even if they enter the United States illegally. Still, the company sells the funeral insurance only in the United States, an effort to avoid covering those crossing illegally, who are at a higher risk of dying.
"The river, the desert -- there are many ways to die crossing," Monterrubio said.
There is no count of how many Latin American migrants die each year in the United States. But of the 10 million Mexican natives thought to be living north of the border, as many as 1,000 die every month, the company estimates. It says accidents are the biggest killers.
"The migrant population is normally very young. We can say an average of 25 or 27 years old. So obviously the probability they are going to die at that age is very small," Monterrubio said.
While higher-paying jobs and better living standards draw millions of Mexicans north, a love of their homeland rarely fades. Being buried where one was born is important throughout the region.
Compelling examples can be found from the war in Iraq. Mexican-born U.S. soldiers have been flown to their native land for burial instead of being laid to rest in the nation they gave their lives fighting for.
Porfilia Reyes, who bought a five-year policy in Los Angeles, first slipped into California to work in a clothing factory in 1975 and is now a U.S. citizen. But she still wants to be buried in western Mexico's Nayarit state, where she was born.
"I'm not home if I'm not in Mexico," the 51-year-old said.
Governments often send bodies home, focusing on the impoverished. But they tend to pay everything only in high-profile cases, when people fall victim to an unusual fate.
Mexico's Los Angeles consulate negotiated favorable prices on repatriation with five funeral homes that shipped 200 bodies back last year, said spokeswoman Mireya Magana. But she said she did not know of any other insurance plan like Grupo SEP's.
Monterrubio said the government of Mexican President Vicente Fox approached Grupo SEP -- which specializes in high-volume, low-cost life insurance in Mexico -- about selling life insurance to migrants in the United States.
Fox's aides have explored ideas for migrant insurance with various companies since 2001. Monterrubio said U.S. regulations made formal life insurance impossible, so the company turned to funeral coverage.
Mexico's Foreign Relations Department confirmed it had been in contact with Grupo SEP.
To generate publicity, the company paid $12,000 to return the bodies of Emilio Santiz, 19, and Salvador Diaz, 21, from Temecula, Calif., to San Juan Chamula in Mexico's southernmost state, Chiapas. Neither were policy holders.
The Tzotzil Mayans, who crossed into the United States illegally and took landscaping jobs, died in a car crash. Their bodies made the long trip home by plane, hearse and sport utility vehicle.
"This isn't the first time we lost friends," said Narciso Diaz, a migrant who knew the victims. "One never knows when destiny comes and your time ends. But to know you can make it home, for us that means a lot."