An Undocumented Existence

Julio Bonilla has crossed the border many times to find a better life

NEW YORK—Julio Bonilla lives and works in East Harlem, N.Y., as a busboy and deliveryman for Pipo's II Mexican Restaurant.

Bonilla, an undocumented immigrant from Mexico, has joined the thousands of Mexicans who now call East Harlem home, making the Puerto Rican-dominated neighborhood into what is now known as "Little Mexico."

In the last 20 years, more than 12,000 Mexican immigrants have moved into the community, according to U.S. Census data.

The peak season for people to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in Arizona is January through June, said David Jimarez, an agent in the U.S. Border Patrol's Tucson Sector.

The Border Patrol's Tucson Sector is responsible for 262 miles of Arizona-Mexico border, he said. The Yuma Sector patrols the remaining 127 miles.

In fiscal year 2009, the Tucson Sector reported 241,000 apprehensions—which is less than half of what it was in 2000.

Crossing used to be much easier, said Bonilla, who crossed the border through Nogales.

"The first time I crossed, I didn't have to walk at all; I just walked across the border," he said. "From there, I took a taxi to Phoenix, then a plane to New York."

Bonilla, who has crossed the border multiple times since 1990, said he crossed in search of a better life.

Bonilla has paid a coyote to guide him and other immigrants across the border. They walked north along Interstate 19, traveling only at night, for 15 hours until they reached Tucson.

Now, he shares an apartment in New York with his wife, who is also undocumented, and his U.S.-born 9-year-old daughter.

Even with immigration back in the forefront of American politics, Bonilla isn't worried.

"If one doesn't commit illegal acts," Bonilla said, "if you lead a normal life, I don't think there are any problems."


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