The stakes going in to Saturday night’s fight for vet Ray Beltran, born in Mexico and now residing in Phoenix, Arizona, went beyond the usual elements.
He was of course fighting in NYC for a fee, for a purse, and a win would bring him to a title shot at the IBF crown (now held by Robert Easter of Ohio).
And then, a bonus would be there for the taking, not set it stone, but a strong possibility. If he won the fight, authorities in the know had told his manager, Steve Feder, he’d be in line to get a “green card,” the document which allows a visitor from a foreign country to stay here, permanently.
The 35 year old Beltran (33-7-1-1 NC) came from the US from Mexico in 1996, he told me after his fight against Jonathan Maicelo at Madison Square Garden’s big arena, in a Top Rank contest shown on HBO.
Getting a green card is an exercise in jumping through hurdles, and optimism. One must show they excel in a vocation, have talents which lift them up and over regular Joes.
Being a strong contender isn’t enough, Beltran, currently holding a P1 visa, made available to athletes, said. He’d tangled with that night’s headliner, Terence Crawford, before, in fall 2014, and tasted an L. He’d need to up his output, get on an impressive winning streak, and then his prospects to be a full-on citizen, with attendant rights and privileges, would bloom. His attorney had assured him that winning this fight against the 25-2 Maicelo, of Peru, would get him green, snag him the card.
One wants to apply when all the elements are optimal, apparently, because getting turned down and then circling back lessens ones’ chances.
So, on Saturday, Beltran did his part. He channeled thunder and rained it down on Maicelo in the form of a left hook, which had Maicelo less than fully conscious as he was falling to the canvas, in round two. His head thudded on the canvas, and the ref immediately called for the tangle to cease.
“The more press we get for him, the better, that helps us, because they literally look at that, Homeland Security, they look to see how much press he gets. Is he a unique individual, is he getting the kind of attention (that shows he is) something positive for the United States?” Beltran’s manager Feder told me.
This week, paperwork to get the golden green card will be filed, he said. It’s about a six month process and Team Beltran will have letters of support from fighting legend Roy Jones, HBO ace Jim Lampley, emcee extroadinaire Michael Buffer and HBO exec Peter Nelson, Feder said. “We’re going to have a big stack, basically saying he deserves to be a citizen.”
Yes, Feder said, the more extreme vetting now directed at those coming into the country worried Beltran to an extent when it kicked into gear in February. But the boxer, he said, thinks that powers that be enacting more stringent policies in the immigration realm are doing so in a bid to keep US citizens safe. Beltran gets that. “He’s trying to be an ambassador for people he thinks rightfully deserve to be in the US. He’s a proud Mexican, and speaking up for those proud Mexicans and immigrants who work hard, and pay taxes. Many, many may not be pro athletes, the same as him, but they are just as deserving. Ray told me, ‘I’ve been a citizen of the ring for 18 years. Now, I want to be a citizen of this country.”
Beltran, who’d lived in meager circumstance, in a metal shack before crossing the border at 16, was asked about the possibility and meaning of getting a green card in this era, in this charged political climate. “In the nation, we have a lot of possibilities,” he said. “We can accomplish whatever we want to accomplish here, the opportunities are there, you just have to work hard for it. That’s why you see a lot of nationalities, immigrants in the United States, opportunities are here. Better hope for the families, better hope here. I love this country, I’m a proud Mexican, I love my people, my country. It’s like my mother, Mexico is like my best friend. I love this country. I have nothing to say negative about this country, it’s given me a lot opportunities, and friends, of different nationalities. It doesn’t matter where you’re from, if you’ve got a good soul. If we have to go to war, to defend the United States, I’ll give my life, and fight for it. My kids are born here, they’re American citizens, and this is they’re country, and I defend the country.”