“Hey man, I’m in L.A.!” I got a text from my friend Jaime couple months ago. “Hahaha, funny joke,” was my reply and then I ignored him.
A couple of weeks later I got another text from him: “Hey man! I’m in San Diego, let’s hang out!”
I thought Jaime was pulling my leg again. “Dude, stop with your shitty jokes. Let’s hang out soon in Tijuana.” I did not believe him because I know he does not have papers to enter into the U.S.
“I’m really in San Diego! I came to visit my girlfriend, going back to L.A. soon.”
Not born in East L.A.
Jaime grew up in California undocumented. When he was five years old, his family moved him with his grandmother to East L.A. When Jaime graduated from high school, he was stuck in California with no papers, couldn’t go to college, and couldn’t find a legitimate job.
I met Jaime a few years ago through Skype when we both got hired to be writers/editors for a start-up sports website similar to Bleacher Report. Jaime was living in L.A. with his grandmother and his aunt — both U.S. citizens.
We worked together online and were paid monthly under the table; good money for someone living in Tijuana, but not enough to live in California. After a few months working together online, Jaime told me he was self-deporting and moving to Tijuana with his brother. Jaime was 20 years old at the time and hadn’t stepped foot in Mexico since his early childhood.
When Jaime arrived in Tijuana, I took him to his first bar, his first strip club, and showed him the Tijuana life. He had a slight Spanish accent that gave him away as a Mexican that grew up in America, so I always spoke to him in English. Though he is ten years younger than me, we became good friends. After I quit my job at the sports website, Jaime and I stopped hanging out frequently but I still saw him out in the bars at night.
The sports website ended up being a failure and Jaime lost his job. Like many deportees or ex-pats, Jaime got a job in a call center, but the pay wasn’t very good for the long hours. He went from shitty job to shittier job, until one morning, after drinking all night until dawn, he decided to cross the border.
Ah, the old stolen passport story
“So, after a whole night of partying by myself and meeting new people, I was ready to go home," Jaime wrote me. "This was, like, at 5 a.m. but since I was wasted I decided to check out Zona Norte first. I overheard a couple guys having a conversation and somehow I ended up talking to them since it was in English.
"They had just met each other as well. One was a white boy and I'm pretty sure the other one was Mexican. The white boy starts talking about how he was at Hong Kong (the strip club not the city) all night fucking hookers and that they stole his wallet and passport. So he had no money for the cab back to the border. Keep in mind that I was jobless and desperate, so way before this I had already thought about crossing any way possible.
"This was my chance and I didn’t think twice about it. The Mexican guy offered him a ride across the border but he had to go to his girlfriend’s house first. I just told the white guy that I was going to cross too, so that he could just ride the cab with me. I told him that he had to say that my passport was stolen too because I forgot it at home. I didn’t want him to know what I was doing.”
Though Jaime is Mexican in appearance, his mannerisms are fully American.
“We took a cab to the San Ysidro border, and when we got there there was a huge pedestrian line to cross. It was around 6 a.m. Saturday morning. I was still drunk. White boy then realized that this was not the border he had crossed through. He had left his car on the U.S. side but through the Otay border, so we took a cab there instead. We get there and it’s nearly empty and much nicer. He asked this lady where we should go because we lost our passports. She pointed at a black guy [Customs and Border Protection agent] to our right. I was keeping my cool and acting like the Americanized Mexican that I am.”
Passports forgotten, stolen, or lost in Tijuana is such a common occurrence that Border Patrol has a standard protocol. Usually with your name, birthday, fingerprints, and/or your Social Security number, CBP can find you and let you through. Jaime barely knows any Mexican history, while his American history is on point. If Border Patrol asked him questions about the city he grew up in or who was his fourth-grade English teacher, Jaime could have answered all truthfully. But it didn’t even come to that.
“The [CBP agent] was young and super chill. He gave each of us a piece of paper to write our names and birthdays down. I wrote both a fake name and birthday. When he looked me up and didn’t find me he asked me, ‘Are you sure you have a passport? I can’t find you.’ I said, ‘Yes, but I haven’t seen it since I was young.’ The white boy then started rambling about how once you turn 18 a lot of your information gets erased from the system. Of course he was still completely unaware of what I was doing. The black guy [CBP] asked me to empty my pockets. By this time I had already hid my IFE and my pesos in my shoes.”
During his time in Mexico, Jaime applied and got his Mexican papers. He had the official voter ID, commonly known as IFE, and his Mexican passport (which he left at home).
“I just pulled out my wallet and showed him that it was empty, saying, ‘See? They took everything.’ Then he asked me where I was born and where I was going. To which I responded, ‘Pomona, California,’ both times. Then he looked up the white guy on the system and as soon as he found him, he let us pass. No fingerprints, no second inspection, nothing. Adrenaline was rushing through my body but I still was calm, cool, collected, and drunk. I was even patient while the white guy asked the black guy what he could do about his passport. I was also dressed up real nice...which I think helped a lot.”
Incredibly, Jaime had made it across the border with a convincing lie. Unfortunately, he cannot cross back to Mexico to see his family and friends.
“Then, when we got to the white guy’s car right across the Otay border, I was so fucking happy that I had to confess. He was super cool about it. Just made a dumb joke, like, ‘As long as you don’t bomb any buildings.’ He then gave me a ride to my girlfriend’s job in Chula Vista. It was already, like, 7:30 a.m. My girlfriend gave me a ride to L.A. the next day.”
Jaime now lives in California illegally and has been for the past couple of months.
I asked Jaime if he was getting his U.S. papers. “Yes, you asshole. I will be in SD again in a couple of weeks.”
Asked what it feels like being an illegal in the U.S., Jaime says, “Fuck Donald Trump, fuck Border Patrol, and fuck the border.”