Undocumented and ICE’d

Man from Mexico is Sent home and Sneaks Back into America. How and Why?

Nacho driving and parking the food truck that he works at in its usual spot, a parking lot in Central New Jersey. He is the main cook most days. By Samantha Dellanno

*The names of the people in this article have been changed to protect their identity

*This story has been translated by Barry, close friend to Nacho, who’s story is told here (from Spanish to English)

During a “routine” vehicle check in 2014, Nacho and two other friends were pulled over off of a busy street in south New Jersey by men who looked like regular police officers. When Nacho and his friends could not show identification, they were removed from their vehicle and arrested. They were three of 20 immigrants arrested that day.

Nacho was first taken to a prison somewhere in Cherry Hill, where he spent the night before being transferred to a prison in Newark. “I do not know what the prisons were called, or who the police were because no one spoke Spanish,” he says. “No one could tell me what was going on or where I was going. I just followed.”

Not one person during the nine days that he was in American custody spoke Spanish to Nacho to let him know what was happening. He was separated from his friends, stripped of his belongings and fingerprinted.

Not understanding English, Nacho had to watch for signals from officials to know what to do. He was put on a plane and flown to the U.S. boarder, dropped off, and instructed to leave just how he came. Nacho was able to catch a bus and then walk the rest of the way home to Puebla, Mexico.

As a former welder in Mexico in 2012, Nacho could not make enough money to support his wife, two sons, and two daughters who then were ages seven, nine, 11, and 14. Hearing about a job opportunity from friends in the States, Nacho joined a group of coyotes- a Mexican term for natives who smuggle people across the border.

It took Nacho eight days to get into America. He walked most of the way with the coyotes, then traveled by bus as far as he could. His friends met him and brought him to central New Jersey where they helped him to become a cook in a taco food truck.

Nacho’s boss, Jay, a food truck owner, has employed undocumented men before. He worries about them, but believes they should be given a chance. “It is stressful having to constantly stay on the lookout,” says Jay. “But these people are my family. We have community all over the state so we look out for each other. He needs money and he can cook, why shouldn’t he work for me?”

Nacho grilling soft taco shells for customers. The peace sign he is holding represents his laid-back personality and hopeful character. By Samantha Dellanno

Usually, Nacho can get a warning call from friends in other towns when there will be a check soon. These events usually involve police officers who work with the United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and create “checks,” or areas in a road where they stop vehicles and ask for registration.

Nacho spent six months in Mexico after deportation, until he felt it was safe to come back. He left his family, again. Out of desperation, he asked Jay’s son, Barry, then age 18, to marry his daughter, that way he could stay in America with an excuse. “I want to help Nacho in any way I can,” explained Barry. “But I am so young, and the legal technicalities of what he’s asking me to do are too complicated. It would be like fighting through a landmine with the government.”

When Nacho found his coworkers again, they moved to another town in New Jersey and now commute the distance to the food truck. “It’s frustrating,” says Nacho. “I work hard and I don’t bother anyone. They just sent me away so suddenly. It isn’t fair that they can do that.”

Some of the art on the side of Jay’s food truck (above left and below right). By Samantha Dellanno

Nacho is one of many who force themselves away from home and family for money. He fears, daily, being captured and sent back, or worse. People like Nacho must avoid routine checks as best they can. They steer clear of the roads and public places when they receive calls from friends in other towns who have already seen the checks starting. Like a mail deliverer, the officials usually follow a certain route, stopping in town to town. Nacho and his friends try to warn each other as far in advance as possible through phone calls.

Nacho grilling soft taco shells. Every taco comes with two shells and they are always heated before they are stuffed with taco meat and other ingredients. By Samantha Dellanno

With no other options, all Nacho can do is wait until he has enough money to go home. “I’m very sad,” he says. “My children are upset with me, especially my youngest son. They grew up without their father. I could be caught again but I have to watch so I can stay. I send everything I make home but you can never make enough money.”

Jay, who is an American citizen, was also born in Mexico and can sometimes be just as frustrated with the government. He never thought twice about giving Nacho his job back. “I didn’t know if Nacho was coming back but I was glad to see him when he did. The government is not the enemy but they are blind to some of the struggling that goes on in this country. I was heartbroken when I heard about how they treated Nacho. I’m not scared. He can always work here.”

Nacho stuffing a soft taco shell with seasoned meat. By Samantha Dellanno

According to the ICE official website, 256,085 illegal immigrants were deported in 2018. Many of whom do not understand English and were separated from their families without warning. Nacho believes he is a part of an underground community. “Immigrants make this country greater,” says Nacho. “I don’t have the money to be here legally, but I am good and just want to support my family.

Mexican style tacos, made by Nacho: Two soft shell tacos, beans, rice, onions, and cilantro with a side a guacamole and lime. “I make the best tacos here,” says Nacho. By Samantha Dellanno

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