How Hard Is It to Get a Black Market Green Card?

As long as there is a demand to become a working American, there will be those who sell black-market green cards. Issued by the INS, green cards are essential documents needed to verify immigrants as resident aliens with the legal right to work in the United States. With an estimated 11 million illegal immigrants nationwide, a green card is gold for those questing the American Dream–and often unobtainable.

Everyone is entitled to the American Dream. Some wait for years to win the green card lottery. (They make it sound like it’s done with a scratch-and-win card). In order to reap the fruits of prosperity in this land of plenty, I shall try to get a green card by mid-afternoon–no later. How hard can it be?

My quest for the American dream has taken me to the Mission District. On a sunny Saturday afternoon, there’s a myriad of activity with its 99-cent stores, check-cashing places, and plentiful taquerias. I’ve recruited a Mexican friend of mine to help with the translation process, and to give validity to my story of being a Canadian with green card pursuits. A friend of hers just came over from Guadalajara and went right to the Mission to get a new fake green card in order to find temporary work on a fishing boat. He tipped her off that in front of photo and passport stores are the best places to begin the quest. The busy season is late spring and early fall due to the fact that a lot of immigrant work is in agriculture. San Francisco, like most major cities, has a steady demand, being that here the majority of work is mostly in restaurant jobs. Recently, a Las Vegas-based syndicate tried to muscle in on the San Francisco and New York markets, creating the same gang dynamics of the drug trade, only with the fake-green-card industry.

Sauntering down Mission Street, a Latino guy wearing a down jacket and baseball cap stands in front of a clothing store two doors down from the passport-photo place, suspiciously hanging out with a very serious expression on his mug. We glance over, but he doesn’t make eye contact. Not thinking much of it, my friend suddenly hears him say to a passing Latino man, “Micas? Micas?” (Street slang for “green card.”)

As my friend turns, he finally initiates eye contact. After a brief exchange in Spanish, the guy breaks into a friendly grin; he knows he has a customer.

“My friend is from Canada,” she tells him. “He’s looking for a green card.”

“Okay,” the guy says. Not questioning whether I might be an undercover cop, he shows no fear of being busted, and immediately escorts us inside the passport-photo place so I can get a picture taken for my fake green card.

My black-market ambassador gives a familiar nod to the store’s proprietor, who seems to know what’s going on; after all, he brings in a fresh supply of regular, steady customers. (Some businesses will even give a small percentage for that.) Taking my place in line behind a little kid with glasses, I learn the black market prices go as such:

-Twenty-five dollars: fake green card

-Twenty-five dollars: fake social security card

-Ten dollars: real passport photo (for a fake green card)

“Is it okay to get just the green card, eh?” I ask in fabricated Canadian accent.

“No business!” my black-market ambassador coldly snaps. Due to the risk it must all be a package deal; you can’t just buy one fake government identification card. Upon green-card photo-session completion, my black-market ambassador hands me a white envelope. “Sign your name and write your birthday,” he requests. “It’s for the green card.”

This is exciting. I’m wheeling and dealing on the black market for fake government documents! I bet within these circles I could easily buy someone’s kidney!

With the transaction finalized, a real name is finally given: “I’m Alberto. (Real name has been changed.) Here’s my cell-phone number,” he says, scribbling the info into my notebook. “Come back at two PM,” he adds in a really friendly manner as if this were a Sunday-school picnic. Alberto clarifies, “I don’t make the cards; I send them off to be made.”

Making it even easier, he doesn’t want any money up front! The ability to work and make minimum wage in the U.S. is a dream for many immigrants. This dream will come true with a two-hour turnaround time.

Uncut, blank, phony document stock smuggled in from Mexico; a scanner; typewriter, laminator, and cutting board are the tools of the document forger. A phony Social Security card’s foundation paper, with light-blue marbling over a white background, can be bought at almost any art-supply store. Each eight-and-a-half- by eleven-inch sheet of light blue paper makes eight fake Social Security cards. The result provides any new or immigrant (or terrorist) the documentation needed.

Added is the amount of money one can make in America. Even an unskilled worker making eight dollars an hour still earns substantially more than many back home, where wages can be as low as two dollars per hour. In addition, landing a job even with illegal documentation can lead to eventual permanent status if the employer files a petition. Thus it’s sometimes worth the risk of being deported just to get your foot in the door.

With time to kill, I venture on my own; noticing that in front of every passport or photo place two guys occasionally throw out, “Micas? Micas?”

When I return at two PM, Alberto is standing in front of a clothes emporium. There’s a bustle of activity: four others now encircle the passport-photo place. Alberto seems to be taking direction from a guy clad in a silver baseball cap adorned with dollar signs.

“Five minutes! Five minutes!” he shouts, seeing me from across the street, making exaggerated hand signals to stay where I am.

My faux government-issued documents are still not ready; my American dream is taking longer than I thought. Two well-dressed Chinese gentlemen are waiting as well, anxiously shifting on each foot. Their attention is also focused on Alberto. All the morning green-card orders must be done at one time due to our congregation. I post up by a parking meter two doors down from a portrait studio, where yet another guy in front exclaims, “Micas? Micas?” like it’s the most natural thing in the world.

Alberto gets on his cell phone and frantically paces up and down the block, adamantly talking, while the guy with the silver dollar-sign hat–slightly scarier than friendly Alberto–ventures across the street. He stands behind us, muttering “Micas? Micas?” as people continually pass, working the crowd.

Twenty minutes later, still no black-market green card. Impatient, the two Chinese gentlemen look mildly concerned. Alberto still paces the street, periodically stopping to gesture “five minutes,” extending his hand to emphasize this time increment.

The head honcho finally arrives dressed in casual business attire, with the sides of his head shaved and hair formed to a long rat tail in back. He confers with Alberto. Suddenly a large red pickup truck pulls into parking spot across the street from the photo place, igniting a flurry of activity. Like it were a covert military operation, Alberto runs toward the vehicle and sticks his head into the truck’s driver’s side window. After a few minutes he runs back across the street and into the passport-photo place. Emerging several minutes later, Alberto makes his way over and quickly hands me the envelope with my signature on it, which contains two pieces of newly constructed government identification. His partner with the dollar-sign baseball cap does the same to the two Chinese gentlemen. (I think Alberto actually got the card laminated at the photo shop.)

“Do I give you the money here?” I ask.

“Yes!” he says with a sense of urgency.

“Can I open a bank account with this or get a driver’s license?”

“No, it’s just for work!”

“How about a Blockbuster membership?”

“No!”

Not one for chit-chat while making a black market transaction in open, broad daylight, Alberto then walks away very fast, disappearing in the Saturday afternoon crowd.

My green card reads, RESIDENT ALIEN, and boasts on the back, PERSON IDENTIFIED BY THIS CARD IS ENTITLED TO RESIDE PERMANENTLY AND WORK IN THE U.S., is adorned with some person’s smudged fingerprint, my forged signature, and has sort of cloudy blotches within the lamination. My Social Security card is cut at an irregular angle. I guess this would work, if I applied for a job in a poorly lit room or cave. What people in other countries dream of and have suffered for, I just obtained effortlessly for fifty dollars (plus ten for the passport photo). I now possess the passable ID that separates immigrants around the world from working in the land of Air Jordans, Tom Cruise, and Coca Cola.

The two Chinese gentlemen look at their cards with big smiles. Nodding, they seem very pleased. In this crazy dance between legal and illegal, together we swiftly walk in the same direction down Mission Street.