I understand. It’s your job.

Homeboy walks off a Mexicana Airlines flight at San Jose International
Airport, waits in line and hands me his passport, I-94 and Customs
Declaration. He’s a little too happy to be here.
I look at his passport – it’s Costa Rican – and think “what the hell is he
doing on a Mexicana flight?” It’s a round-about way of getting to the U.S.
from Costa Rica, and more expensive than taking Taca (the central american
carrier). I run his name and don’t come up with anything interesting in
the computer. Flipping through the pages I see a couple entries to the
U.S., but not enough to prove anything. He says he’s coming to visit a
friend for two weeks.

I ask for his airline tickets and read his itinerary codes: SJO-MEX-SJC,
SJC-MEX-SJO. I think “San Jose (California) to Mexico City to San Jose
(Costa Rica) and back. Why does he have a round-trip originating in

I refer him to secondary as a possible 7A: Immigrant without immigrant
visa. 212(7)(A)(i)(i) is one of the more common charges I throw at people
if the computers turn up nothing; it basically says “I think he’s living
and working here”.

In Secondary the computers turn up nothing about overstays or prior
encounters. They throw his bags around (READ: search) and come up with a
resume, a letter of recommendation, an attaboy certificate from Burger
King, US bank statements and a bunch of other pieces of paper saying he
has lived and worked in the U.S. The lead officer’s impressed with the
referal: We’ve got enough to send him back as an Expedited Removal (ER)
whether he admits to anything or not. There’s no more Mexicana flights
from this port so the decision is made to take him back to SFO.

I ask him to empty his pockets and jewelry into his bag – sun glasses,
wallet, watch, gum, Visine, belt… he asks if he should put his cash in
his bag too. This is always a concern for folks from Latin America.
Apparently Mexicana airline employees have a habit of stealing from the
bags of Central Americans (he says it’s because Costa Rica has a better
soccer team). I check the roll for tools/weapons and tell him to keep the
cash in his pocket. He’s still happy and says “I understand, it’s your

I ask him if he has any weapons and he says he doesn’t, “no weapons. I’m
not going to fight you.” Another junior officer frisks him and in the
process damn near puts him in the splits. I intervene, which our Costa
Rican friend appreciates. I instruct our man to assume the position and
the same officer hand cuffs him, just a little too tight. Again I
intervene, and I’ve earned the “Good Cop” label. We don’t actually play
this game, but it usually occurs when I’m around anyway.

“I’m not going to run away,” he says.

“I know you’re not going to run away,” I laugh.

“They hurt,” he says.

“The handcuffs?” He nods. “Put your hands like this,” I say. “They won’t
hurt as much.”

“I’m not going to run away,” he says.

“I’m sorry, it’s how we have to do it,” I reply.

“I understand, it’s your job.”

We gather the bags, load up the van and head off to The Port.

The lead officer turns to me in the van and says “I want you to tell him
something for me.”

“Alright,” I reply.

“Tell him we’re going to try to get him on the next flight to Mexico so he
doesn’t have to spend the night in jail. But in order to do that he’s
going to have to cooperate and tell us the truth.”
In my round-about Spanish I convey the message to the seat behind me. The
response comes back, “the truth about what?”

“About why you’re coming to the U.S.; about living here; about your
employment; about everything.”

“uh… come again?”

“There are two ways this can go: you can lie to us, or not tell us
anything, and it will take more time. Because it takes more time we won’t
be able to put you on the next flight and you’ll have to sleep in a jail
tonight. Or, if you tell us the truth about living and working in the
United States, it is possible you’ll be able to leave tonight.”

“I worked here in 2000, but that’s not why I’m coming this time. I’ll tell
you the truth.”

“Thank you.”

“I understand, it’s your job.”

“Everybody’s got one.” He thought that was funny.

For a moment the only sound is the highway and the radio. In my periferal
vision I see the lead officer turn to look at me.

“He worked here in 2000,” I say.

“Well done.”

“Thank you.”

“How many is that?”

“That’s number two.”

The period after arriving at SFO is a blur of fingerprints, photographs,
interrogation, government forms and computer terminals. Through the wonder
of the division of labor, four or five hours of work gets been blasted out
in under 60 minutes. Seconds before I escort him to his flight the
king-high Mucky Muck announces that homeboy is going to be allowed to
withdrawl his application for admission. The lead officer looks at me a
says “you got robbed. I think you can count it anyway, though.” I shrug.
The decision is way above my pay grade.

More forms are signed and we march off to a departing Mexicana flight. All
sorts of things are being adjusted behind me as a result of the change of
plans, none of which I particularily understand.

I explain to our friend that he’s really, really lucky. For some reason
the big chief changed his mind and instead of ERing him, he was allowed to
withdrawl. What’ s the difference ? A withdrawl doesn’t have a five year bar
from the U.S.; he could theoretically go get a visa tomorrow and legally
re-enter the U.S.

He says “thank you” before he gets on the plane.

It’s approaching 1:30 am and it’s time to go home.