When the stretch limo came to rest in the garage of Boni Sanchez’s office building, Delando Rojas reached for a lever beneath the passenger seat. The back of the seat elevated and rotated to the front of the seat, providing the sizeable Delando Rojas to move over and face the rest of the group.
Ashley blushed at the sight of the muscular thirty-something man.
“Unfortunately, the Senator requires plausible deniability,” said Delando. “But she’s graciously offered us this underground cover for our clandestine gathering.”
He introduced himself to Stephanie and Rupert, shaking their hands firmly and offering his best wishes for Chuck’s safety in Reynosa. He apologized for the abrupt and makeshift meeting location.
“As you can see,” he said, glancing out the tinted window at the darkened garage. “ALIAS operates somewhat in the shadows.”
Stephanie smiled, nodded and lightly touched Rupert on the sleeve to prompt the start of the conversation.
“We understand you have some options for us to consider,” Rupert said, opening his briefcase and sliding his yellow note pad on top of it. “We’re not here to conspire to conduct any illegal activity. But we would like a thorough presentment of our full range of options.”
“Yes, yes,” Delando said. “It’s all an equation of risk and reward. The reward is the safe return of your husband and father. The risk is his continued banishment. But it’s not a binary equation around legalities or violations. Even those grey areas can vary from official to official and from judge to judge. Every action represents a shade of legality. There are some faint shades and some very dark shadows. I’ll present the range and you can decide how or if you choose to engage with our organization.”
“I understand,” Stephanie said. “Let’s get to the options.”
“Well, the first and most risk-averse choice is to simply apply for a work visa through the DS-160 form on the web and then schedule an interview at the embassy. Once allowed into the states, he can go through the process of acquiring citizen status.”
“But as a deportee, he has very little chance of getting approved?” Stephanie asked.
“Not with a federal offense on his record,” said Delando. “At least for the next five to ten years, he’d surly be denied. So high reward of gaining legal access to the United States, but low probability of success at a cost of potentially an entire decade or more.”
Emily made a quiet sound of disapproval.
“I don’t like that one,” said Britney. “What else can we do?”
“The far end of the spectrum is, uh,” Delando looked at the three teenaged girls, then Rupert and finally Stephanie, who nodded for him to continue. “We could leverage ALIAS Operations to bring him back, provide a safe house and claim asylum. ALIAS Legal would represent him. We’ve had a strong track record with these cases and believe we could achieve a reasonable chance of success.”
“What chance,” Stephanie asked.
“50%, maybe, but high reward,” said Delando. “We could have him back here inside of a week. I’d go to Reynosa myself for the extraction.”
“But, high risk as well,” said Rupert. “If caught.”
“Or killed,” Delando added. “It can be very dangerous on both sides of the border.”
Britney gasped. Stephanie remained stone-faced taking in the options.
“Assuming you successfully navigate the dangers,” Rupert said. “The downside there is that he could be sent away for life with no chance of appeal.”
“Correct,” said Delando. “High reward. Very high risk with a potential permanent, irreversible cost.”
“Jesus,” Ashley muttered.
“You have a middle option?” the Stephanie asked.
“Yes, the annulment,” he said, noticing the faces of all three girls twisting and contorting at the word. “We nullify the marriage.”
“No,” Ashley protested.
“Get divorced?” said Britney.
“It’s the only way for your parents to easily remarry,” Delando said. “They can do it legally, both from the standpoint of the marriage as well as for the purposes of the legal return to the states.”
“This is crazy,” said Britney. “It shouldn’t have to work that way.”
“They sent Daddy away and we have to do whatever we can to get him back,” Emily replied.
“What’s involved?” Rupert asked.
“For one, we have to bring Mr. Domo to the California border. The Tijuana agents are much more liberal and sympathetic. To cross in Texas, we’d have to establish a year’s worth of proof that there was a courtship.”
“A courtship?” Stephanie asked.
“You’d take vacations in Mexico every four months where you’d meet a new man and fall in love with him.”
“What new man?” Britney asked.
“Here’s the legal grey area,” Delando explained. “Your father could no longer be Chuck Domo, nor could he be Carlos Dominguez. We’d have to come up with a new, third identity for him. Stephanie would have traveled to Mexico looking for her husband, Chuck Domo, only to find him gone, missing, dead, maybe just not interested in her any longer. We’d come up with a backstory.”
“This is ridiculous,” Britney said.
“Hear him out,” said Emily.
“Despondent, Stephanie meets a new man,” Delando continued, like a story-teller. “She falls in love with him. They have a whirlwind romance, decide to get married and file an I-30 Petition for Alien Relative with a much higher likelihood of success. Played right, we have a better than 90% chance, with a low downside.”
“We don’t break any laws doing that?” Stephanie asked. “Why can’t Chuck just keep his existing identity as Carlos Dominguez?”
“Because of the Federal conviction,” Delando said. “The U.S. government keeps track of people they deport. They’d equate Chuck to Carlos and the federal offense would complicate the arrangement. For this to work, Chuck has to become a wholly new and different person with a revised appearance. A new hair color, a beard, maybe lose some weight, or gain a paunch.”
“He’d still need identification in Mexico with a new first and last name,” said Rupert.
“Lower risk to break Mexican law, than U.S. law,” Delando said. “What does he have to lose in that scenario? There’s no enforcement of identification offense south of the border. He could become whomever he wants. According to the U.S. government, he’d be just another random Mexican crossing the border legally.”
“There’s the matter of the fingerprints,” Rupert said. “That’s the one complication.”
“That’s the one risk to the middle plan,” he said. “ALIAS Ops would have to remove that record from the federal database. That’s what Chico Dominguez used to do before he went rogue and started blackmailing his clients. ALIAS Ops got a bad name because of him. But I assure you, I’ve cleaned that house, reconnected the two sides of the business and we’re nothing but professional now.”
“That’s a big risk,” said Rupert. “Exposing Chuck is one level. Exposing Stephanie is unacceptable.”
“ALIAS Ops would take all the risk and accountability,” he said. “We’re an advocacy group. We believe the government has lost its human compassion. We believe in helping the downtrodden. We’d take it upon ourselves to hack the government system. ALIAS Legal would completely inoculate you.”
“How long would it take?” Emily asked.
“If we try to cross in Texas, we’d need a year,” he said. “We’d need to establish Stephanie’s pattern of visits. We’d need dinner and hotel receipts, time and date-stamped pictures from a smartphone as well as eye witnesses to the development of their relationship. But, if we do it in Tijuana, once you get through the lottery, you just need to sell it to the border agent. We have ways of getting our clients pushed to the top of the queue. It could be as quick as a week or two.”
Stephanie looked at the three girls, leaning forward in their seats, rapt by the discussion. She allowed her eyes to meet Rupert’s. His doubt and confusion shined through, but he nodded and blinked in approval.
“Ok,” said Stephanie. “Let’s do it.”