Fake ID vendors hit the streets of the Mission
One week from today, the US Immigration and Customs Enforcement's "Secure Communities" program goes into effect in California. It's a federal program that checks the fingerprints of people arrested for any crime to determine their immigration status.
San Francisco Sheriff Michael Hennessey is seeking to opt out of the program, saying it conflicts with the city policy of reporting only those born outside the US who are arrested for felonies. He says the city currently reports about 2,000 people a year to immigration authorities—he thinks the new policy, which could include reports on traffic violations, will raise that number above 35,000.
Of course, many undocumented immigrants are here to try to make a living. And for them, getting a job means first getting a fake ID, green card, California ID or U.S. birth certificate. So, how hard is it to get those things? Reporter Rosa Ramirez discovers that getting phony documents is as easy as taking a walk.
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ROSA RAMIREZ: In the Mission District, it turns out, it costs $90 and two hours to buy a new life in the underground market. Along with street vendors luring you with the smell of sizzling hotdogs or the counterfeit movie peddlers advertising the latest flicks for five bucks are the men selling documents.
DORA TRUJILLO: You want a green card? You want a social security? You want an ID?
Dora Trujillo is an immigrant from El Salvador. She bought a phony green card and social security card to get a job in a San Francisco restaurant. She used it without any problems for years before she got her own documents, this time legitimately, from the Department of Homeland Security.
TRUJILLO: I am Ana Claire for almost five years.
The undocumented immigrants I spoke to for this story say they need fake papers to work. Many feel torn having to resort to fraudulent means to earn money honestly.
TRUJILLO: It’s really hard to say “I no have papers” when you go to looking for a job, you know. They ask for papers. They no complain. You give them from Mission or you give them from immigration they always take it and say OK.
It’s just after 2 p.m. on Mission Street on a warm Thursday afternoon. After 20 minutes, I’m approached by an identity vendor.
TRUJILLO: They are psychologist, you know, the people who sell documents. Because they know when you need.
I hear the words, “Micas, micas, micas.” I slow down and make eye contact. “Mica” is the Spanish slang word for green card. Actually, he seems to be asking everyone—the people walking in front of me, next to me, and those strolling right behind me, if they want to buy green cards.
“Cuanto cuesta una ID?” I say in my mother tongue. How much is an ID?
TRUJILLO: Ten years ago when I buy my documents, the social security is $30, the green card $20 or $30, too. But you buy the three documents is for $60 all. That’s it. It’s very cheap.
But that isn’t the going rate now. A street entrepreneur--a slim, Hispanic male, in his late forties, with dark shades--tells me a California ID is $90 and there’s another one, which looks quite real, he tells me, going for $200. It’s made with better machines, he says.
WOMAN: I paid one $120. That was about three years ago.
This undocumented immigrant spoke to me on the condition that I not reveal her identity. She’s from Mexico living in San Francisco.
GREG CORRALES: The main culprits involved in the sales of false IDs, that’s their specialty. That’s where they’re making their money. They’re experts on it. They’re very realistic looking IDs.
That’s Police Captain Greg Corrales of the Mission. He and other police say these guys are crooks. But immigrants see value in their service.
TRUJILLO: It’s true. You pay maybe $300 for the three documents, you know. But the big favor they’re giving to you, because maybe you pay only $300 one day but you gain the job maybe you make $1,300 every two weeks. They’re serving good to the people but they’re not serving good to immigration.
RAMIREZ: So, who decides what name is on the card?
TRUJILLO: Well they decide. I using the name Ana Claire. My face is no Ana Claire. And it’s not my last name. You think an Ana Claire one small lady, blue eyes. But I am big I have brown eyes.
Two days later, I’m back at the Mission. The ID vendor is leaning against the wall wearing the same shades and smiling. He recognizes me. I ask him in Spanish if he can give me a discount on the ID. He knocks off $10. I can’t help but feel scared. I check to make sure police aren’t around and wonder what would happen to me if I get caught.
WOMAN: I felt scared. I thought, “Should I do it? Should I not do it?” I didn’t know how to ask for this stuff. I was really frightened.
Like the Mexican immigrant who got her documents fraudulently, I felt out of place negotiating the price of an ID in the street, in broad daylight. The seller, on the other hand, seemed relaxed and friendly. We walk to a nearby passport photo shop. I pay ten bucks and get my mug shot. After two hours, I have a new identity.
I am now Michelle O. Smith, a random name picked on the spot. My date of birth…the Fourth of July.
Rosa Ramirez is a student reporter at the UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism.