- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 7, 2005

MEXICO CITY — They live and die in the United States, but for the families of many Hispanics, 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 Hispanics, promising to pay to embalm a body, get it to even the remotest of hometowns and pay funeral costs.

With offices in Mexico City and Lynwood, Calif., Grupo Servicios Especiales Profesionales offers three-year policies for $30. Since first offering policies more than three months ago, Grupo SEP says, it has attracted 30,000 clients and sells 80 to 90 policies per 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 Hispanic 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 death.

“The river, the desert — there are many ways to die crossing,” Mr. Monterrubio said.

There is no count of how many Hispanic 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, Grupo SEP estimates. It says accidents are the biggest killers.

So far, none of the company’s clients has had to use their policy.

“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,” Mr. Monterrubio said.

Although 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 for which they gave their lives fighting.

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. 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.

The Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles negotiated favorable prices on repatriation with five funeral homes that shipped back 200 bodies last year, said spokeswoman Mireta Magana. She said she did not know of any other insurance plan like SEP’s.

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