Mexico City – Patrick Kowalski was 26 when he got bored of his job in the U.S. and took a trip to Mexico on a tourist visa in search of adrenaline and ready for anything.
He wanted to live like a Mexican, he said, and get to know the historic and cultural sites that everybody around him seemed to be talking about.
He ended up settling in Acapulco, where he said he lived his dream life of little work and plenty of booze and marijuana — until he was accused of robbing a woman. The accuser went to authorities, who asked him for his passport. That's when it emerged that his tourist permit to stay in Mexico had expired.
"I found myself in the prosecutor's office in Acapulco, where they called immigration to deport me," Kowalski told Fox News Latino a year after the incident, in a telephone interview from Miami, where he now lives.
"I never imagined that an American could be expelled from Mexico," he added.
Not only can U.S. citizens get deported from Mexico, they do.
Deported Americans accounted for more than 2,000 cases in 2015, an average of five cases per day or more. In 2014, 1,243 Americans were deported from Mexico, according to figures provided by the Mexican migration policy unit.
As of October of this year, 2,079 American citizens had been deported — the majority of them through Baja California, with other border states like Tamaulipas and Sonora also seeing frequent cases.
Americans account for about 10 percent of undocumented people who Mexico deports – the total number is 127,149. A large majority of people expelled from Mexico are from Central America, which saw almost 120,000 people deported from Mexico, most of them returned to Guatemala and Honduras.
The number is minimal compared to how many Mexicans are deported from the U.S. – about 173,564 of them in the first 10 months of 2015 – but it’s an unknown phenomenon that Mexico deports Americans in its country even for just having an expired visa.
What is unusual, too, is that while the number of Mexicans being deported from the U.S. decreased dramatically in five years – from 468,699 in 2009 to 88,042 in 2013, the last time the figures were released by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security – the number of Americans deported from Mexico has increased. There were 841 Americans deported in 2009, Mexico figures show, a fraction of the more than 2,000 deported in 2015.
"The reasons behind the expulsions are related to administrative misdeeds,” Monica Mora, of Mexico's National Council of Science and Technology which collects the data, told FNL. “Principally tourists with expired visas, and those who remain without a residence permit or who are surprised while violating in some way the laws in Mexico."
It is so little known, in fact, that when it happens Americans in Mexico are left puzzled and shocked.
Brenda Long, 70, who spent decades working at the Harlem Hospital Center in New York City, took a vacation to the Mayan Riviera in the Yucatán peninsula and fell in love with the turquoise waters and crispy sand, the warm weather and the buoyant tourist economy.
In 2000, she opened a restaurant with a Mexican partner in the beach city of Playa del Carmen. The adventure lasted almost 15 years, until the business collapsed earlier this year and someone reported her to the immigration authorities as an "undocumented gringa."
"I felt humiliated," she said from New York City, where she begrudgingly returned. "But I want to go back. I know I want to spend the last days of my life over there."
Gardenia Mendoza is a freelance reporter in Mexico City.