Strange Man in a Strange Land

Mauricio Pavez came from Chile to Florida as a tourist. One mugging and eight months later, he refuses to leave.

In midspring Pavez showed up at the Miami office of U.S. Sen. Connie Mack. His tourist visa would expire on April 26, 1997, and he told Mack aide Rey Castellanos, who handles Miami immigration cases, that he wanted to get permission to stay in the U.S. and work to earn enough to pay his way home. A tourist visa, however, can be extended only if, among other things, the tourist can prove that he has enough money to continue being a tourist, explains Castellanos. Since Pavez didn't have a dime and apparently no one to fund his travels, Castellanos advised him to apply for voluntary departure status owing to medical need.

Under past immigration law, that would have given him additional time to stay here and work, according to Castellanos. The new immigration law that went into effect April 1, however, allows a maximum 120-day extension but not the right to work. Pavez's application is still pending, but he says he no longer believes Mack's office is trying to help him. Castellanos declined to discuss the case unless Pavez gave his permission, which he didn't.

Pavez, shuttling among several government offices throughout the spring and living at the HAC, says he was advised by "a secretary" at the local Immigration and Naturalization Office to apply for an extension of his visa, and he did fill out an application but apparently never submitted it. Meanwhile, the Chilean consulate had long since given up counseling Pavez.

In May, soon after his visa expired, the Homeless Assistance Center sent him to Beckham Hall. "He became a problem for us," says HAC director Lynn Summers, "because his problem was, 'I want to sue the State of Florida for having been robbed.' We said, 'That's fine, but you are illegally present in the U.S. and there's nothing we can do for you if you won't work with your consulate.'" HAC officials did not report Pavez's illegal status to the INS, Summers says, but decided they had exhausted all means to help him and thus couldn't continue to subsidize him. So they "out-placed" him to Beckham Hall, which has a 90-day stay limit.

As a resident of Beckham Hall, Pavez is going to school again, studying interior design at the University of Miami's Koubek Center for continuing education. His three-month limit has expired, but on September 1 Beckham Hall will be turned over to a private nonprofit corporation, and the incoming director will probably have to decide what to do with Pavez.

Outgoing director Elizabeth Regalado, struggling with severe staff cutbacks, says she knew nothing about Pavez when he appeared at her front door and has learned little since then. "The HAC sent him to me," she explains. "I asked him why didn't the Chilean consulate get him back [to Chile]. He just says they couldn't help him. There are several things I can't figure out."

Regalado has plenty of company, both here and in Orlando -- people like the Orange County Sheriff's Office's Greta Snitkin, who was the first person to try to coordinate some assistance for Pavez after he was robbed. "We have a tourist advocate -- that's me -- and normally after something like this, I'd put him on a plane home," says Snitkin, speaking by phone from Orlando. "I offered to call his family in Chile on our nickel; he wouldn't let me do that. First of all, he didn't qualify as a tourist; he qualified as a transient. He told us the last place he'd lived was under bridge abutments in Miami. He looked filthy, hadn't had a bath in ages." Snitkin acknowledges that Pavez "had good manners, he wasn't emaciated, he wasn't a bad-looking man, but please, Disney World? Donald Duck would never have let him in the gate looking the way he looked that night.

"If he had had a home address, he would have qualified for [state] crime victim compensation," Snitkin adds, "but he wasn't telling us anything we could verify. In other words, he wasn't telling us everything. Nobody figured out what he wanted. I think he's one of these people who play the system."

Metro-Dade victims-compensation social worker Mary Peters had the same feeling. "I could give him advice as one human being to another. I could put him on the bus to Jackson," says Peters, who retired at the end of 1996. "But I couldn't open a file for him because [the assault] happened outside our jurisdiction. I remember it was some kind of strange case because, when he came to see me, he must have been to a lot of other programs. As a tourist, he knew too much."

And then there's Chilean Vice Consul Julio Fiol, who says he actually spoke with Pavez's mother twice by phone, and that Pavez's family offered to pay his plane fare home. "'No, I want to work here, I want to apply for a working visa,'" Fiol remembers Pavez insisting. "He was being really stubborn, he was rude and giving a hard time to the people here. It's a kind of a long story and lots of pieces don't make sense. I told him the new laws make it tougher and tougher to be an immigrant, but I assume he wants to try his luck here -- what you call the American dream."

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