DOUGLAS, Ariz.—The forbidden romance between the Border Patrol agent and the illegal immigrant began in a gym.
Maria Terrazas, 31, met Jose Ruiz three years ago at LM’s Body Builders in this remote border town. Terrazas, a waitress and mother of two, knew Ruiz was a catch. As a Border Patrol agent, Ruiz belonged to an elite class in town: available men with good jobs and an education.
The two began dating, and their relationship continued even after Terrazas was deported to Mexico in November 2004. She quickly bluffed her way through U.S. customs and back to Ruiz.
Terrazas, who said several of her illegal immigrant girlfriends have relationships with border agents, saw nothing unusual about dating a man whose job was to keep people like her out of the U.S. “He had his own job and I had mine,” Terrazas said in an interview. “I never thought it’d cause problems.”
But it did.
Terrazas faces deportation again and Ruiz, 30, is on leave from the patrol. A second agent has been charged with felonies for giving Terrazas a short ride across the border from Mexico. It is one of four felony cases stemming from a federal crackdown against corruption on the Arizona border.
That push has highlighted an open secret along the border: romance between illegal immigrants and those responsible for deporting them.
Pablo Berry was a 17-year-old student at Douglas High School when he met the only woman he ever dated: classmate Claudia Veronica Vasquez-Banda, 18. Like many at the school, Vasquez-Banda, court records show, was an illegal immigrant.
After graduating, Berry held a series of minimum-wage jobs that reflected the paucity of opportunities on the border—picking chiles, cooking at a Kentucky Fried Chicken—before securing an $11-an-hour post at a resort in Sedona, Ariz. In March 2003, the couple’s daughter, Emily, was born. Berry needed better pay to support his family.
In southern Arizona, there was only one growth industry: the Border Patrol. Berry’s hometown of 17,000 was opening a new station with 500 agents and entry-level wages of $40,000 a year.
Berry joined the patrol in July 2003, stating in his application that he had no illegal immigrants in his household.
“He was blinded by love,” said Berry’s attorney, Gary Spector. “If you have a family member [who’s an illegal immigrant] you don’t feel it’s as egregious as someone who’s trying to sneak across the border.”
Assistant U.S. Atty. Mary Sue Feldmeier praised Berry for admitting his guilt, but called his behavior “the ultimate hypocrisy—while deporting other illegal aliens, [Berry] goes home to an illegal alien every night.”
Despite the fact that locals now know she is in the U.S. illegally, Terrazas said, she still gets asked out by agents.
One agent assured her that “my job is my job, and when I leave I can do what I want to do,” she said.
But Terrazas is not interested anymore. She said, “I don’t trust any of them.”