From Warsaw to the U.S. via Tijuana and Montreal

Many Polish immigrants get to the United States by illegally crossing the Canadian or Mexican border. Until the mid-80s the most popular crossing point was the northeastern part of the Mexican border. After that stretch was secured, newcomers flocked to the western part of the border.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Services) the Mexican-U.S. border consists of nine sectors. The most “popular” is El Paso, through which the greatest number of Poles attempt to get into the United States. In 2000 alone, (the last year for which statistical data is available) U.S. officers caught 163 Poles attempting to get from Mexico to the United States in this region.

One month ago, Andrzej S. managed to cross the Mexican-U.S. border for the second time. “Ten years ago everything was simple. Right after you got off a plane in Mexico City you’d run into Mexicans offering help, in Polish, to get you to the United States across the Mexican border,” says Andrzej. “This time [the second time] everything was handled differently.

“Still in Poland, my friend and I paid $4,500 each. We were told the entire plan of getting us through the border in detail. We had to pay extra for our transportation from Warsaw to Tijuana. Tijuana was where I started to have problems. The immigration officers let my friend through, but they stopped me as they noticed I was denied a U.S. visa. First, I showed them the address of the Polish friend with whom “I was going to stay” in Tijuana, and then the money I brought for my official purpose of travel—sightseeing in Mexico.

“The officers carefully counted the money and ostentatiously took $200 from the sum. Only then did they let me go. I finally met up again with my traveling companion. We spent the night at a hotel and the next day some Polish guy put us on a bus to Mexicali. From there, a native Mexican took us to the border.

“Shielded by riverbanks from both sides, we walked in the water until dawn. From time to time we’d see a plane above our heads monitoring the area. To become less visible we’d put dark plastic bags over our heads and squat in the water. The river was wide and pebbly. There were also pieces of metal thrown into the water to make walking more difficult. Finally we reached the city of Calexico [in California]. The next day we were transported to San Diego. This is where we got our baggage and documents back. The very same day we hopped on a bus to travel across the States.”

After Andrzej describes his adventures he adds, “Once I have legalized my stay in the United States, I will definitely go on a trip to Mexico.”

Hanna S. came to the United States 12 years ago. This year she and her family visited their motherland, Poland, for the first time since they came to the United States. They have finally been naturalized. The woman willingly talks about her road to the America, but “just in case,” does not want to reveal her last name.

“My mother—who already lived in the United States—desperately wanted me to join her, but I was denied a U.S. visa. She decided that I should come through Canada. All arrangements were made by an agency in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, which charged us $4,000 for the services. When I arrived in Montreal, a man with my name on a sign was waiting for me at the airport. I spent the night at his place.

“The next day he told me to get into a mobile home and hide in the closet. A few miles before the border we stopped at a parking lot and the driver nailed the closet doors so that they wouldn’t open. I will never forget the events that followed. We stopped again and I heard voices. I heard the door of the mobile home open. I froze in fear. It all happened very quickly and we started moving again. A few miles away from the border I was let out of the closet and put on a bus to New York. When I arrived in the city a cabdriver took me to my mom’s. This is how I arrived in Greenpoint.”

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