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On Sixth Avenue, across the street from the block-long Family Court building, stands a row of converted single-family Victorian homes, their yards parking lots, their windows barred. Today those residencies are family-mediation agencies and immigration law offices. In the lawyers’ waiting rooms, one finds a new class of clients: illegal immigrants, most from Mexico, who’ve been in San Diego for years and whose chances of gaining citizenship are getting as slim as winning the lottery. They’re seeking attorneys’ aid, frightened by the anti-immigration movement in American politics, and especially the d word: deportation.

During the 1980s and 1990s, Mexicans who were in the country illegally traveled back and forth at Christmas: take a bus to the border, walk into Tijuana, fly home for the holidays and fly back, then sneak into America through a hole in the fence or a long hole in the ground. In recent years, for a host of reasons — stronger border surveillance, double the number of Border Patrol agents, widened barriers and sealed tunnels, tougher restrictions on Mexican visas, overloaded U.S. clinics where pregnant women receive prenatal care, and a political will in Washington to revise immigration law — crossing from Mexico has become more perilous than ever, particularly along the 45-mile border between the San Ysidro and Tecate crossings.

A border that is less porous has meant a boon for immigration lawyers. Their clients, many of whom have hidden out in America for years, are now seeking a lawful path toward residency and/or citizenship, though the way, in such an inflamed political climate, is strewn with legal roadblocks and ablaze with constant anxiety.

One such client I meet in a Sixth Avenue law office is a fortyish Mexican woman, here illegally for eight years. She — and her lawyer — agree that she may speak anonymously. Lupe, as I’ll call her, came to America from Mexico with six of her seven children. The seventh, now seven years old, is the only one born here, and thus a U.S. citizen.

Lupe is accompanied by her soon-to-be daughter-in-law, who is an American citizen. The young woman’s Mexican-born fiancé, one of Lupe’s seven children, was deported last June. The two hope that by working with an immigration attorney, they can bring him back and get him and Lupe on the road to residency status.

Lupe is distraught about her son’s expulsion. She has no idea when she’ll see him again. Worse, she says, is her fear that if she went to visit him in Tijuana, where he lives, she could not get back across the border — not today’s clamped-down border. Such a journey might mean abandoning her six children in the United States. It’s a classic bind, between the rock of one child and the hard place of the other six.

Still, with a trusting smile, Lupe says she wishes “there were a better opportunity in the U.S. for everyone here illegally to become, at least, temporary residents.”

In 2003, after borrowing a brother-in-law’s passport, she crossed with her family by car. (Her husband has had a green card for 20 years.) They did so not to give birth to more children here but to seek “greater opportunities” for her Mexican-born kids. The crossing was not difficult, but she was nervous. Now, she says, it’s much harder. Customs officials are more vigilant, and the way back is “a lot riskier than before,” especially if you need a coyote: “It costs 7000, 8000 dollars.”

She says she didn’t cross legally because, in years past, such an undertaking was impossible. To emigrate from Mexico, one needed a passport, a business, and a steady income, none of which Lupe or her husband had. The Mexican government would issue a passport only if it believed you were coming to America to earn money and would, in effect, send some portion of it home.

Lupe takes care of the kids while her husband works construction. So far, his residency has not helped her alter her status. In fact, only recently has she come out of the shadows and sought legal aid. Neither she nor her family members have been asked about their status. (Her son, who was deported, was detained after a car crash and, without an ID, admitted he was not a citizen. Immigration and Customs officials deported him immediately.) If Lupe drives — she has no license — she is very careful. She lives in fear that any police car driving slowly by her home is there either to spy on her or arrest her.

The soon-to-be daughter-in-law often takes Lupe’s seven-year-old daughter with her to visit her brother in Tijuana. She says the seven-year-old, who understands her mother can’t go to TJ without papers, tells her when she leaves, “I will tell him ‘hi’ for you, since you can’t go, okay, Mom?”

In parting, Lupe says that, despite the new law in Arizona, which has made her fearful of driving in California, she still hopes to become a resident and citizen “because the government here is much better than it is in Mexico.”

Tough Decisions

Lupe’s attorney is Jacob Sapochnick, who told her up front that any resolution of her case might take “two to three years.” On a recent dress-down Friday, Sapochnick, a gracious and talkative man, spoke with me about Lupe and other clients. Silencing his buzzing iPhone, he says his presence online and a frantic immigration environment has added a dramatic pop to his business.

An Israeli, Sapochnick came to America on a student visa in 1997 to attend law school. He first worked for a firm, translating documents for Israeli clients. Eventually, sponsored by his employer, he got a permanent resident or green card (a color identity the document no longer carries). Today, he holds dual citizenship and has, for the past seven years, specialized in helping immigrants, legal and illegal, become permanent residents and citizens.

Beginning alone, with a one-room office, he has now “taken over the second floor” of a house at 1552 Sixth Avenue. He’s one of three lawyers and five paralegals; the practice includes web pages and videos explaining immigration law. Sapochnick, who speaks in rapid-fire sentences, almost as if he can conjure the arc of my questions, says that he reaches potential clients all over the country because immigration law is federal and involves filing the requisite paperwork with the U.S. government, as well as with embassies in the emigrant’s homeland.

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Comments

minutemanproject Sept. 23, 2011 @ 12:44 a.m.

As long as organizations like the California Coalition for Immigration Reform (CCIR), William Gheens's ALIPAC, and Jeff Schwilk's San Diego Minutemen (SDMM) are involved in the illegal immigration issue there will never be a respectable solution to the problem.

In my opinion, these hooligans of political activism have so tarnished the image of immigration law enforcement advocates that it has become extremely difficult to get serious and committed attention to the issue by our nation's political governors.

It is no wonder that the Obama Administration has seized the opportunity to take advantage of the disarray of so-called immigration law enforcement activists by announcing its planned "delay" (aka amnesty) in court proceedings for the millions of illegal aliens currently occupying U.S. territory.

Although there are many sincere and well-meaning persons involved in the movement advocating enforcement of U.S. immigration laws, they have unfortunately been trampled and shouted down by the ultra right bullies of political activism who really are involved in activism only as a means of fulfilling a sick quest for a delusional recognition as the "savior" of America, or to carry out a covert racist agenda.

Shockingly, as I look back on the past seven years of activism in the illegal immigration issue, I can honestly say that I have encountered more unethical, immoral, and criminal-minded persons from my side of the debate than I have from the adversarial side of the debate.

Unless immigration law enforcement advocates conduct themselves in a respectable manner, there is little chance any political representative or candidate will ever take them seriously. Ergo, there is a very high likelihood that U.S. immigration laws will never be seriously enforced and "amnesty for illegals" will be the conduct du jour.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

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Fred Williams Sept. 26, 2011 @ 10:12 a.m.

One of the main reasons we have illegal immigration in the first place is that LEGAL immigration is ridiculously difficult:

http://reason.org/files/cb299f0134ca8bb75243c69caa92eea7.pdf

To demonize those who are forced to dodge this bizarre maze of contradictions is immoral.

When I was on the Border Solution Task Force, I found too that those who are involved in this issue are too frequently unethical, immoral, and criminal minded racists. I quit that group to save my own dignity and reputation...I want immigration reform, not lynch mobs of the ignorant rounding up hard working people who happened to be born on the wrong side of a border.

Full Disclosure: I've lived and worked, legally, in several countries around the world. Because of my technical skills and experiences, many places welcome me and I pay them a lot in taxes. My own country, however, according to the rules, would never allow me in...that's how pathetic current immigration rules are.

Best,

Fred Williams

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Justified Sept. 23, 2011 @ 1:34 p.m.

Does Mr. Gilchrist have a google alert set for Jeff Schwilk's name? Because every time I read an article with Jeff's name in it, I always find a defamation remark written by Gilchrist about Jeff. If I was Mr. Schwilk, I would file a lawsuit.

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rubliw Sept. 24, 2011 @ 12:41 p.m.

Mr. Gilchrist has done more damage to the illegal immigration movement than anyone. Who founds a program and then goes out of their way to destroy it? I tell you who, the person that becomes not so much the media darling anymore, not so much bank accounts filled to the top, other groups doing the right thing getting better notoriety . Mr. Gilchrist How many times have you actually day in or day out been on the front lines doing the foot work? I've seen you do the photo ops, nothing else. If you gave a flying leap about the movement you would not be trying to put down the movement every chance you get, while giving kudos to the other side. Really? You need to say nothing, instead of trying to sound important, and keep your name out there. If you want to defect just do it and leave the movement alone. When you write on these blogs, write the truth, not falsehoods. Your importance has been greatly exaggerated.

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Twister Sept. 24, 2011 @ 9:29 p.m.

My grandpappy was descended from a bunch of aliens who slaughtered my grandmother's people and imposed government (my grandmother's people didn't need no stinkin' gummint!) upon them, but she married him anyway. I'm "stuck" with the fact that if they ever made all the aliens go back where they came from, they'd have to cut more than a pound of flesh off me to send back.

"My ancestors didn't come over in the Mayflower--they met the boat."

"I am a Cherokee and it's the proudest little possession I ever hope to have." ~Will Rogers

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minutemanproject Sept. 25, 2011 @ 10:14 p.m.

Gee whiz, Justified, sorry it offends you if I bring public awareness to the rampant illegal alien invasion of the United States with my talent for media involvement. But, that is how issues come under the national spotlight. duh!

Going to the border to have a weeny roast BBQ and dunk a few beers with a bunch of incurable KKK wannabes, and calling that border observation "foot work" is not my idea of an effective use of time. It's tantamount to a bunch of Brown Beret wannabes at a "hate the gringo" pinata contest, or a bunch of Black Panthers at a Louis Farrakahn "kill whitey" hate fest dinner thinking that's all they need to do to make the world a better place.

When I go to the border I bring hundreds of volunteers and stay on outposts for weeks. I also vet participants to exclude social maladroits and outright racists who have attempted to attach themselves to a movement that should be conducted within the rule of law if it wants any chance of succeeding. Unfortunately, the ongoing infighting sponsored by ALIPAC, SDMM and CCIR have stalled the Minuteman Project's plan of bringing 2,500 (yes, twenty five hundred) volunteers to the Arizona border for another 30-day observation and reporting event. I've done it before; I can do it again...bigger and better next time. We have the resources to pull it off. But, that event will be postponed until the trouble-making activists in this movement conduct themselves in a respectable and mature manner.

I do not make a policy to "put down the [immigration law advocacy] movement every chance" I get. But my experiences with some of the persons, in my opinion, who have tried to dominate the issue with their own brands of fascism, racism, and incurable hatred have led me to distance my organization from them. Honestly, the worst participants, perhaps with the most sinister followers, are ALIPAC, San Diego Minutemen, and the California Coalition for Immigration Reform, as well as some greedy former volunteers.

I didn't pick a fight with them. They picked a fight with me and the most precious values established by our nation's Founding Fathers. Many American men and women have died for those precious values over the centuries, including 72 good young men from my own company of Marine infantrymen in the Vietnam War. The Minuteman Project refuses to associate with "goose steppers," criminal mentalities, haters, bigots, and those with a penchant for lying and stealing. Sorry if that disappoints you, but that is the guiding light I follow.

I will continue to move the issue of illegal immigration, but I will do it without the interference of those ignorant and foolish persons who have put the movement into a stalemate by sponsoring infighting. These hooligans are no better than the "reconquistas" or the reckless politicians who have aggressively encouraged this unprecedented invasion of our country.

Sincerely Yours,

Jim Gilchrist, President, The Minuteman Project

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David Dodd Sept. 26, 2011 @ 5:41 a.m.

Excuse me, Mr. Gilchist, but you and your henchman are about 15 years too late to the party. I don't care who is or isn't a racist, there is no separation of hatred from any of the groups. A bunch of Veterans missing their days in the service got together and cooked up a scheme so swell that I'm sure you all have yourselves convinced that millions of illegals are massing into the U.S. every week. Sorry to disappoint you and the politicians that have obviously duped 40% or more of the American people into believing that illegals entering the country is some big enormous problem, but the very small amount of illegals that enter the country pales in comparison with the problem that the U.S. now has, which is what to do about the many millions of Mexicans and people of other nationalities that have been living and working in the U.S. for 20 years or more.

So why don't you and all of the other Rambo types put away your guns, break camp, get together back in the city, and figure out a solution to THAT issue. And you'll have to do it without violating their human rights, an issue that Arizona obviously doesn't yet understand. And you'll have to do it knowing that until the U.S. Constitution is changed, that all of their babies and children that were born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens, so deporting their parents might not be in the best interest of the U.S. since having a bunch of babies and children being taken care of by the State doesn't sound like a good idea.

And you can start first by understanding that the U.S. brought this on themselves. I've lived in Mexico, right here on the border, for almost 20 years. When I first came here - crossing the border every day through various ports of entries - literally thousands of illegals simply ran through the border every day in packs of a couple of hundred at a time. Sometimes the single border guard that chased the pack managed to apprehend one. Before I came to live here, I hear it was much worse.

That never happens now.

I could go back to research I've done, historically, concerning how the State of California actually encouraged Mexicans - regardless of status, paperwork, citizenship - to cross any way they could and work the fields in Central California, as late as the 1960's. But I won't bother, I'm sure that all of this has been pointed out to you before. The problem started then and there. The point is, your organizations will never have any effect on the politics of trying to get the government to keep a few dozen Mexicans a week from entering the U.S. illegally through the desert. Because what you are doing is a silly and veiled attempt at pretending you are back in the service and somehow serving your country. You aren't, you are simply making yourselves more irrelevant in the eyes of anyone that would take up a cause that you are pretending to promote.

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Evelyn Sept. 26, 2011 @ 2:34 p.m.

oh man, a million cover stories can be done up on the topic… and now for my thoughts:

people be tripping if they think i'm gonna vote to lose my citizenship. (re: amending the 14th amendment) my brother's might be for it, but then again, their conservatives and i'm a bleeding heart liberal.

and how unpatriotic are the doctors and hospitals that help any woman in labor without checking their documentation. isn't america's wellbeing more important than the individual's!?!?

actually my socialist leaning would command a yes to the above question; except for the fact that if a significant number of our individuals are weakened, then the entire system is weakened.

it's ridiculous to hear people say that if they could cross legally then everyone should, like Maria in the story. she was a nurse in Mexico: she had a job, she had an income, she didn't have an overwhelming desperate need to move countries. desperation makes people do crazy, crazy, desperate things.

in the end, I think refried's right. the us needs a solution to the undocumented immigrants currently in country. and, id add, mexico needs a solution that focuses on self reliance within its country, not the US's… and the countries seriously need to improve the immigration process. or even just the come over the imaginary line and visit for a while process (i.e. visas and passports).

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David Dodd Sept. 27, 2011 @ 1:21 p.m.

I agree, it is certainly time for Mexico to end its encouragement of migration to the U.S. in order to take advantage of money sent home. It is getting better, but there is a long way to go here.

I'll add this: My own sister-in-law, armed with a visa, had her little girl in the U.S. Why? Because her husband has family in Los Angeles, U.S. citizens, and they visit often. She came right back into Mexico, she has a practice here and does just fine for herself. Sometimes it's simply the convenience of being able to cross the border once every few months without repercussions.

As for myself, my daughter was born right here in Tijuana. My wife had a visa at the time, and we discussed it, and decided that ultimately, she should be born Mexican and decide for herself. She has a Green Card. If I wanted to, I could certainly push the issue, as I am a U.S. citizen, so long as I pay the U.S. Government a "fee", she will automatically become a U.S. citizen. That's not going to happen. That decision is hers.

But there are far too many trapped in the U.S. That really is the bigger issue.

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SDMM Sept. 27, 2011 @ 10:20 p.m.

Dozens of countries around the world have repealed their birthright citizenship laws over the past 20 year. Only the U.S. and Canada still continue the practice of giving free citizenship to the babies of ILLEGAL aliens, among industrialized nations. It is time to repeal BRC in 2011.

HR 140 must be pushed for a vote, passage in Congress, and signed by our the president. Its the right and sane thing to do to close the anchor baby loophole for illegal aliens.

Mr. Gilchrist speaks only for himself since he was kicked out of the mainstream secure borders movement in 2008. He was further exiled in 2009 when his border director, Shawna Forde, murdered a 9 year old girl and her father in Arivaca, AZ. She was convicted earlier this year and is on death row awaiting execution. Gilchrist has been trying to sabotage the movement and all other real grass-roots groups every since. He's a sad, broken man and fallen leader. His slander and smear above are completely false and meaningless.

All legitimate Patriot groups in Southern California are part of the SoCal Patriot Coalition. 34 good groups in all - www.SoCalPatriots.com. />

Illegal aliens and their offspring in California (est. 4 million) cost CA taxpayers over $20 BILLION each year. See the breakdown of costs in the 2010 study at www.FAIRus.org.>

The only people who still support ILLEGAL immigration and open borders in 2011 are family members of illegals and persons involved in the smuggling and exploitation of illegal aliens and drugs from Mexico, i.e. organized crime. Oh and ignorant bleeding heart liberals. Real Americans respect the rule of law and LEGAL immigration.

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SDMM Sept. 28, 2011 @ 11:28 p.m.

By the way, Jeff Schwilk is part Hispanic and many other leaders in the SoCal Patriot Coalition are Mexican-American or Hispanic.

Jim Gilchrist is 100% anglo. When he says he knows lots of racists in his "movement", he's obviously speaking only for his tiny fundraising MMP group which is run by 3 white men: Gilchrist, Steven Eichler, and Tim Bueler. You be the judge.

This is one main reason MMP was kicked out of the mainstream anti-illegal immigration movement in 2008. Gilchrist is a fraud and a scam artist with questionable associations and affiliations.

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