Illegal aliens

July 29, 2011 04:57 pm | Updated 04:59 pm IST - Chennai

A SIERRA MADRE ALLIGATOR LIZARD A denizen of Mexico. PHOTO: Lenin-Whitaker

A SIERRA MADRE ALLIGATOR LIZARD A denizen of Mexico. PHOTO: Lenin-Whitaker

We almost made it across the Mexican border town, on our way back to the U.S., when a police siren sounded behind us. We pulled over and the cop glanced at the big group of American teenagers of Hispanic origin, their professors and the two of us. Rapid-fire Español shot back and forth between our friend in the front seat and the cop. I didn't dare look at the policeman; I stared out unseeingly at the sidewalk with all the nonchalance I could muster. Then with a broad grin the policeman waved us on. Phew! In those few moments, Rom and I had seen nightmarish visions of being separated and thrown in gender-specific jails, unable to see or be with each other.

A few days earlier we had snuck into Mexico without a visa. Before we left India, we had approached the embassy in Delhi which said our passports needed to go to Mexico City and it could take weeks. With only two months to go, it seemed uncertain if we would get our passports back in time, and we didn't want to jeopardise the rest of our trip. Indian friends in the US said they routinely got their visas at the border crossing. What works for them ought to work for us, we thought.

The day arrived when we departed in a convoy of three vans. At the border crossing, the Servicio Migratorio (Mexican Immigration) said we had to get our visas from the local consulate. We'd have to wait a couple of days as it was closed for the weekend. If we had green cards, we would have obtained instantaneous entry. As we stood there dithering, the Mexican border official said he wasn't certain that the consulate would issue a visa. We ought to have got it in Delhi, he muttered disapprovingly. It seemed impossible for us to enter the country.

The devil perched on our shoulders took matters into his hands. We drove back to the US, hung a U-turn and slid into another Immigration gate. The official glanced at us as a mass of ID cards and papers was handed over. I was brown enough to be just another Hispanic, and Rom was, well, a gringo. If the officer had checked, he would have found he was two IDs short. We were in Mexico shortly thereafter and the irony wasn't lost on us. We were unauthorised foreigners in a country whose citizens made up the largest number of illegal aliens in the US.

Over the next few days we were engrossed in finding creatures up in the Sierra Madres. We pitched our tent among gladioli blossoms, but this picture-perfect setting turned soggy and cold at night when rain pelted down. During the day we found twin-spotted rattlers, alligator-lizards, jaguar scratchings, and hummingbirds of many kinds. Our illegal status was a distant concern.

After that close call with the Policia Federal on our way back to the US, we breezed through Mexican Immigration, but we now faced another gauntlet: US Immigration. What if they asked for our Mexican visa? The American Immigration officer ran me through a bunch of questions and one of them was, “Are you a member of any organisation?” I scratched my head. He sighed, rolled his eyes and whispered helpfully, “Terrorist organisation.” Disconcerted by the dramatic whisper and the question, I paused perhaps for a moment too long before shaking my head. As he stamped my passport, he confessed he had just been transferred from Los Angeles International Airport and I was his first interviewee. With the naiveté of a new guy on the job, he wondered if he had done alright. Deliriously relieved at not being deported, I gave him a thumbs up and a wink. Rom had his passport stamped in short order and, heartbeats slowing to normal, we were back to a legal existence.

(Names of people and places have been changed to protect the guilty)

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