Thursday, July 4, 2024

Avoiding Deportation and Losing our Residency in National Airport, Mexico City

A trip to the opposite side of the globe is always a bit nerve wracking. What did I forget? Have I tied up the loose ends? Did I spell each name correctly, book the correct dates, the cost, the jet-lag.

Now add traveling with four young, often whiney children, who, Lord only knows how, have sprung up in your life over the last 6 years. 
Plus, toss in that you're exiting a country where two of your kids have been, technically, residing illegally for years, and sit back as the reader and be entertained by the fireworks display. 

We've taken a flight the previous day from a smaller hub to Mexico City, our early morning flight onwards forcing us to find overnight accommodations.
At 5:50 AM our ride shows up, by 6:20 we are at the airport. Our flight leaves at 9 AM, more than enough time right? Right??

Briefly pause with me as I stand at the airport entrance ---
I know I'm paying fines for my kids, as they've overstayed their visa by ... over 2 years.
Explanation; after moving 21 times over 6 different countries in 5 years; and finally arriving in Mexico and seeing what it offered, I stated:
"Wifey, we're scrapping the return tickets to Costa Rica. I'm not moving again. No way, uh-uh, no chance. I'm like Labrador Retriever who you've taken on a walk on far too hot a day, and for way too long, and found a patch of cool grass. I'm sitting down, and I'm not moving." 

a photo of me discussing moving again with my wife

Now, dealing with Mexican immigration.
For us parents, it was easy enough to gain residency in the country, but two of our kids were born in Thailand, and, for various legal reasons, getting their birth certificates legalized in Mexico would require direct intervention from God himself, and even so, the magic eight ball would tell you: "outlook does not look good." 

On the other hand, Mexican authorities are pretty darn chill about you overstaying, so long as you pay the fine; hey, it's a revenue generator, so I'm not expecting too much friction ... 
Back to the airport ---

First stop- INM (Mexican immigration.) "Go upstairs and get your boarding passes." 
Race up to Turkish Airlines, exchange documents, back down the stairs. 

I hand them the boarding passes and their passports; "Birth certificates," they demand. 
"I need their birth certificates to tie them to you." 
Our collective time, energy, and $10,000 in travel/ tickets is right now, circling the drain. I have a bunch of documents with me, but I'm not sure I have their American Consular Reports of Birth Abroad. 
"I told you to bring them," helpfully chimes in my wife standing beside me, her arms crossed. 

"I need their birth certificates," warns the immigration officer apparently sensing my apprehension.
Normally a cool customer, my hands start to shake as I reach into my bag and pull out the protected folder. 
I search, I search, and I search ...
There they are! I pull out the blue hued papers. She goes to make copies. 
Next to me is an Asian woman getting grilled. She's lost her Mexican residence card as she tries to present a digital copy instead; INM officers look upon her with disgust.
"How are you a resident of Mexico and speak not a word of Spanish?" they mockingly scold her.

I translate for her, although her English is almost non-existent as well. They are making her sign a paper acknowledging that the next time she enters Mexico, it will not be as a resident, but as a tourist, and depending on your country of origin, it isn't necessarily a simple process. I feel for her. 

I'm handed several forms, and finally, after filling them out, some multiple times, I pay several hundred dollars in fines and am done. To be sure not suffer the same fate as this woman, I present them our 4 residence cards. 
"No," I am told, "you present these to the INM desk after you go through security. It's very important," she warns me.
"What happens to people who don't?" I inquire gingerly.
"You can lose your residence (about $1,000 per person, and most of the day to get back) and have problems re-entering the country," she warns me. 

Well, it took me waaayyyy too long, but we'll make our flight. I rush back upstairs to the ticket counter to get the rest of our boarding passes. 
"The baby," she needs to pay the fine too, the staff at Turkish Airlines informs me, referring to our six-month-old.
"But I showed you her Mexican birth certificate, she's Mexican."
"But she's traveling on a US passport. Hurry, run downstairs. We won't load your bags onto the plane in case you don't make it."
Oh God
HUSTLE downstairs, repeat the paperwork, pay the fine, race upstairs, show them the documentation. 
"Here's her boarding pass. We're closing the desk now, we're glad you made it," smiles the helpful flight attendant.  

I spin around, and realize ... I'm alone. 
Where is my family? We need to get through security and board the plane! I start racing around the airport ... which way?? ... and then I spot them ... my wife has bought everyone Starbucks, they sit there, chatting nonchalantly, drinking their stupid, million dollar lattes, with one pinky out. 
"What are you doing?! We need to go, NOW." 
"Can we finish our drinks." 
"We have to get on the plane."
"Relax, security isn't crowded." 
I'm ready to pull my hair out, sometimes I cannot understand my wife's "logic." This is one of maybe a half-dozen times her dilly-dallying has almost cost us a flight; once in San Jose they had to unlock the security door to allow us on the plane because we waited in another section of the airport as the gate area was "too loud" for our baby, ... and we were incredibly lucky for their generosity in doing so that Christmas Day ... 

image of my wife and I exchanging our wedding vows

"We need to get through security, and we need to go NOW." 

Dismantle the stroller and it's accessories, load everything on the conveyor belt, and we have a lot, wait as it all slowly x-rayed, grab everything. 
I have one goal, one thing on my mind-- getting to the gate. 
"Let's go people," I state emphatically. 
Slowly, we start to move. To the left I see an INM counter ... thank God I've already dealt with that, I tell myself, "Gate gate gate," I instruct my family as we hurry down the corridor. 

the INM counter, Mexico City Airport

"Final boarding for Turkish Airlines flight 1070," echoes the voice over the megaphone as we arrive. 
I'm handing over 8 tickets and 8 passports to the staff, when my wife interrupts, "Oh no, we left the stroller skateboard at security. Please please, run and go get it!" 
"Okay, you board the plane, I'll be back." 
"You'd better hurry," warns the flight attendant as my family starts their way onto the jet bridge.  

I rush back to security, success, there is the stroller accessory. 
"Prove it is yours," demands the security guard. 
"We just went through, my wife just boarded the plane, believe me it's ours." 
"I need proof." 
"I'm telling you, I'm not stealing this." 
After a minute of back and forth, they relent, apparently sensing my urgency. Carrying my wife's prize, I start to sprint back to the gate. Again, out of the corner of my eye I see the INM desk, I keep trucking towards the gate ... Five steps later I skid to a stop and spin around, my shoes leaving tire marks on the floor from hitting the brakes. 
I have to show our residence cards!! Thank God my wife left the stroller piece or I'd be on the plane!
I rush to to the INM desk and present our four residence cards, the clerk shakes his head at me. 
"They have to be present," he explains. 
"What? They already boarded the plane!" 
He shrugs his shoulders, uncaring and unmoved. 
Sprint back to the gate. 
"Just in time," smiles the flight attendant warily.  
"I need my family!" 
"The INM official needs them physically there. We forgot to show our residency cards after security." 
"Oh no. I'm very sorry, they've boarded the plane, we cannot de-board them." 
"Please, we will lose our residencies. You know how hard and expensive that is to get back? I'm begging you."
"No, I will be fined 10,000 pesos." (about $600)
"I'll pay it," I reply calmly and confidently.
"No, I simply cannot. I will lose my job. It's illegal" 

Now the crew chief is there, and after threats of us all being deported if I insist on getting my family off the plane, I keep searching for a way.
"You guys are all kind and bright," I state trying to align with them, "help me think of something." 
They look at the crew chief, "How long until we lock the gate?" he asks. 
"Everyone has boarded," answers the flight attendant, "except him." 
The crew chief looks at me. He clearly doesn't dislike me. Although I have advocated my position passionately, I have so without being dismissive or rude. He makes a decision. 
"Let's not waste any more time. Manuel, go with him, speak to INM."
Manuel, who has the air of someone you would love to hang out with, unless you're the owner of buffet, nods his head. "Let's go," he commands.
We start jogging down the terminal. "Thank you, thank you, thank you," I exclaim.
Poor Manuel is doing all he can to stay in motion, as we reach the INM desk he tells me to give me the passports and residency cards and to stand behind the pillar, out of sight. 
I cross my fingers as he approaches the desk, explaining that everyone has already boarded, and could he have an exception as he works with the airline. The INM officer clocks his head back and forth, takes the residence cards and passports, STAMPS THEM, and hands them back to Manuel. 

"You did it!" I announce joyfully. 
"I did it," he smiles at me, handing me back my prized possessions. "Let's go." 
As we race back, I pull 500 pesos of thankfulness out of my pocket and thrust it towards him. He refuses, perhaps the money would cheapen a gesture of goodwill. 
We make it back to the gate. 
"Did you succeed?" asks the crew chief.
"We did." 
"Get on the plane, we have to go." 
They scan my ticket, I walk on the jetway, where I find my family, maybe they were going to throw them off if I wasn't successful? I'm not sure, and weeks later, don't want to ask.  
"Oh my God, where were you?!" exclaims my wife. 
I laugh.
"Let's get to our seats," I respond, "I've got a story to tell you." 

Discussion Questions: 
1. Was wifey stopping for coffee at Starbucks an act of insurrection? Explain why or why not.

2. Would it be fun to travel with Rich ... you know, for the stories if nothing else.