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For My Father 

A young immigrant’s financial and emotional journey to give his dad a proper burial

click to enlarge Josue Saldivar, left, with his dad, mom and younger sisters at the hospital in Albuquerque.

Courtesy Photo

Josue Saldivar, left, with his dad, mom and younger sisters at the hospital in Albuquerque.

Josue Saldivar is usually behind the scene of local fundraising campaigns and immigrant right organizations.

This forever-smiling, warm, 25-year-old Dreamer is an active member of groups like Mariposas Sin Fronteras (Butterflies Without Frontiers). Most of their work focuses on raising money to release LGBTQ immigrants in detention.

On some weekends, Josue can also be found driving with colleagues to Florence to visit fellow migrants in jail, or deliver hand-written letters for emotional support. Then there's his job tutoring students living in the Tohono O'odham Nation and his devotion to Scholarships A-Z, an organization that helps undocumented students get scholarships for college, which he's been a part of since 2009.

He credits his father, Saul Saldivar, for teaching him kindness.

Along with his hugs and love for ranchero music, Saldivar will miss his dad's positivity and empathy the most. Saul passed away on Valentine's Day, after months battling cancer.

Josue's sister made the call everyone wishes they never received—that their father had passed away.

"My mom was too shocked, and she couldn't verbalize the news," Josue says. He sits on a picnic table in the back patio of BorderLinks, another immigrant rights group Josue is involved with. "He was so charismatic, very hard-working [and] respectful. He helped people. He was dedicated to his work, his church and his family."

The past week has been especially tough emotionally and financially for Saldivar, his mother and two younger sisters. Since Saul got sick, Josue became the primary economic pillar for his family. He's had to support himself in Tucson, and his mom and sisters living in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

In 2012, Saul moved most of his family there because he was afraid of the anti-immigrant sentiment and laws in Arizona. Josue stayed behind to finish his associate's degree in business administration at Pima Community College.

The Saldivars are originally from Agua Prieta, Sonora—a small town that borders Douglas, Arizona. They came to Tucson when Josue was 8. He and one of his sisters are DACA recipients—a program issued by President Barack Obama four years ago to grant young immigrants a work permit and relief from deportation. His mom is undocumented and his youngest sibling is a U.S. citizen.

"My dad sacrificed so much for me and my sisters," Josue says. "He worked every week day, weekends, and I'd always see him come home with a smile on his face because he knew the reasons he was doing it."

After Saul's passing in an Albuquerque hospital, Josue was left trying to figure out how to transport his dad to Tucson, purchase a cemetery plot and pay for funeral services—all which could add up to nearly $10,000.

A few days after Saul's death, Josue launched an online fundraising campaign that within a week raised more than $5,400 of the approximately $10,000 needed. This past Sunday, BorderLinks hosted a Mexican lunch to also help with the cause.

"It's hard to support two homes. Saving up for unexpected expenses ... it's not possible," Josue says.

The hospital in Albuquerque told Josue they could keep the body for "a few days," which made him very nervous. He needed lots of money and he needed it quick.

"At Presbyterian, we work closely with families to accommodate their needs after the death of a loved one," a statement from the hospital says. "Following the process established by Bernalillo County, if the family of a deceased patient is unable to pay for disposition of the body, the person is considered indigent and the county may take on these costs. In these cases, Presbyterian would release the body of the deceased to the funeral home that currently has a contract with Bernalillo County for these services."

A couple of days ago, Josue's mom had to move Saul to a funeral home in Albuquerque. "Because the hospital was going to give the body to the county," Josue says. "We're waiting for them to get the death certificate, so that we can transfer [the body] here."

The family wants Saul buried in Tucson, because they are all moving back to the desert to be closer to Josue.

A funeral home in Albuquerque said it'd cost around $1,000 to take care of preparations to fly Saul to Tucson—plus the cost of an airplane ticket. Once Saul is in Tucson, the funeral home here does the rest—roughly another $5,000 for the services and a casket. The cost of a cemetery plot ranges in the thousands. The Weekly called three local funeral homes and they all had similar prices. Also, none really offered options for payment plans, except for one—Adair Funeral Home —which said half of the cost could be paid before the services, and the other half afterwards. But the spokesperson said that wasn't for certain.

Last Thursday, Josue headed to the Mexican Consulate for help. The consulate has a partnership with Adair in cases of migrants found dead in the Sonoran Desert, and Josue hopes the two can work out a discount for the family. But those questions remain unanswered.

If Saul would have passed away in Tucson, the family could have gotten help from the Pima County Public Fiduciary.

"The family has to apply [for help] with the public fiduciary. The county will investigate and see if they have to take control," says Kimberly Romo, communications specialist at Tucson Medical Center. "TMC, in terms of our role, we just work with the fiduciary to support their process. The body stays here until matters are sorted out, sometimes it's a couple of days, sometimes it's a couple of weeks, depending on the family's situation." A spokeswoman with Banner-University Medical Center says they have a similar process.

Josue reached out to the fiduciary, but Saul would have had to pass away in Pima County in order for them to offer any financial help. Even though Saul's been moved to a funeral home in New Mexico, the services in Tucson can't be set in stone until Josue and his family pay everything upfront.

While Josue sorts it all out, the support continues to pour in from friends and strangers. The campaign has gotten more than 700 shares on Facebook, and 129 contributors.

"No immigrant family similar to ours would have the resources or privilege to afford everything that happens after a loved one dies," Josue says. His strength during this time is almost unbelievable, but so characteristic of Josue for those who know him well. "The love I feel for my father is what keeps me strong as I deal with this situation. My dad a spirit of determination and a lot of strength."

More by María Inés Taracena

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