Jose Luis Gomez sat at the rear of the Pan Am 707 staring straight ahead, silent. It was his first trip on an airplane, and the first as well for most of the other 38 deportees.
Of the 92 people arrested by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service at Washington's Annapolis Hotel last Tuesday-the biggest single roundup of illegal aliens in the city's history-these were the first to go home.
They waived their rights to hearings, because they had no money to post bond, because they wanted to leave anyway, or, for some, because they figured it would be easy enough to come back to the United States the way they had come before-illegally.
Less than 48 hours after their arrest, they were bused to New York, spent a day in the detention center there, then were driven in vans to Kennedy airport and loaded on the plane from the field. Some were content, even happy. For them, as one immigration official put it, the journey back to El Salvador would be "something like a high school football trip home."
But Gomez did not look around at the clouds beyong the window or laugh with the others as the stewardess performed her life jacket demonstration. Forty-one years old, the father of six children, Gomez had spent one month in the United States living in a grim section of Washington, where the smugglers left him after he paid them $800 for the eight-day trip overland from his home. He worked one week in a Washington restaurant and earned $78, and was never able to pick up his check.
"To pay for the trip I worked, my wife worked in the fields near La Union. I sold everything to come. Now I have nothing, nothing," Gomez said. He moved his hand across his forehead. "I don't have money to go to the United States again."
Across the aisle, another man was laughing and joking with friends. He introduced himself as Jose Daniel Arias, 28, from the village of Intipuca. "Three years in the United States is a long time and I need to see my wife and children. I feel okay to be going back."
Arias' is the kind of success story that lured the others to the United States. It has attracted from the village of Intipuca alone 1,000 of its 5,000 residents, as well as tens of thousands more from the southern and western regions of the country.
Arias had been lucky enough to go to the United States on a tourist visa and then immediately go to work as a cook and kitchen helper at two Capitol Hill restaurants, working full shifts night and day. He made $300 a week. He was able to send his wife and three children $700 a month, he said, enough to fix up the home outside Intipuca, to buy his mother a small house in the poorer section of San Salvador, the capital city.
"All together I saved $8,000," Arias said. "When I get back to Intipuca, I'm going to buy a pickup truck and drive it to make more money there."
Some of those in the plane-young and single - made the trip to the United States as much for adventure as for survival or fortune. "I used to work in catering. It was a nice job, but the only thing was, I couldn't save money. I spent all of it," said a 23-year-old. Small and stocky, flashing a gold-rimmed tooth in his smile, he said he was born in the village of Intipuca but went to live with an uncle in San Salvador when he was a boy.
He was fluent in English after studying it in San Salvador and working in Washington. "There's some people who try to save money. They like to work and work. There are some people who don't," he laughed. "Some people try to get legal in the United States, but then some people don't care.
"I was in the lobby at the Hotel Annapolis, going to visit a friend, when I got caught. . . . But we know it's got to be, because we know we are in the country illegally."
Ricardo Megango, 23, from Intipuca, was living and working as a janitor at the Annapolis, and was going to put away his car for the night when immigration investigators picked him up.
When he came to the United States, Megango was married with a child, but five months ago his wife wrote him to tell him to forget about her. "I don't know where she's gone."
Megango shrugged and nudged the portable stereo tape player he had placed beneath the seat in front of him. "This is all I was able to pick up," he said in English. "My TV, everything else I had to leave behind."
Though he had little to show for his stay there, Megango said he loves the United States and would go back as soon as he could, if he could get a visa, or if he could get together the money to pay the smugglers once again. "But for now," he said, "I don't keep no money. I buy shoes, I buy clothes, I don't have much left."
A few of those on the plane, like Hernando Umana Martinez, 32, were veteran illegal aliens. In the last 10 years Umana has been to the United States three times, first with a tourist visa, then the hard way, with the "coyotes"-the smugglers. This was his first run-in with immigration, he said.
Yes, he made money as a dish-washer in one of Washington's "family restaurants," but never enough really to save, to be secure, to allow himself to remain in El Salvador with his wife and their children.
"We have to struggle for their education, for their health, to give them better lives. The land is very poor. You look for other work, but you can't find it.
"I would really like to go back to the United States, but I don't know how I can. I could really like to go back legally. I'm very tired of all this."
As the flight wore on, the deportees slowly went to sleep, growing quieter, but the few other people in the plane-who were not deportees-continued talking about them.
A Washington businessman on his way to Guatemala to see about opening a dry cleaning business there said the illegal aliens were the only people who would do real hard work for the wages being paid.
Another business, a travel agent, suggested that any kind of law requiring employers to ask for certificates of legal permanent residence would only lead to discrimination. "Why would I ask for such a thing? Because of skin color? Because of accent? That's what I mean, discrimination . . . And besides, there's now no law that requires me to do it."
Stewardess Mary Glazer, who regularly works flight 541 to Guatemala, quietly handed out a few extra beers to those deportees who were still awake. The two immigration officers accompanying them had limited them to one apiece.
"We see deportees every trip," Glazer said. "There's always at least one or two, usually going to El Salvador. They're not much trouble. Mostly they're very nice. . . . This is the largest group I've ever seen."
At the stopover in Guatemala, most of the Salvadorans started, in a small way, to celebrate-laughing more, joking more, feeling better, most of them, the closer they got to home. "Hey," shouted one, "the girls in El Salvador are the prettiest." "Yeah," said another, "Imtipuca has a 14th Street, too."
At the Guatemala airport, 15 more deportees arrived unexpectedly from Los Angeles and Houston. There would be 54 altogether on a 20-minute flight to San Salvador.
At Ilopango Airport, a crowd was gathered beyond the steaming hot customs area, in the fading afternoon light. Some, in poorer clothes, pressed against the windows. The few others taller, paler, wearing tailored slacks and designer dresses, waited beside cars. But virtually no one there was waiting for the deportees, most of whom had been unable to notify their families they were coming home.
As they straggled, one by one, out of customs, they made their way to the parking lot, where they stood around in small groups. "It's great to be here again," said one young man with a heavy suitcase looking around at the palm trees.
The blood drained, however, from the face of Jose Luis Gomez. "I don't know what I'll do now," he said. "I feel terrible. I just don't know." And he walked away into the night, empty-handed.
Some who lived in the city of San Miguel decided to make the trip that night, sharing a cab to the bus terminal, where amid clouds of dust and blaring horns they took the crowded "301" buses with names like the Lopez Express and Violeta to their homes.
Hernando Umana, the veteran of many trips, decided to pay for a cab, $32, all the way to Intipuca. He didn't arrive there until 2 o'clock in the morning. When he opened the door of his small house his wife was still awake, nursing one of his sick children. She stood up and burst into tears, having no idea that she would see him again so soon.
The next morning, Umana and his wife Rosa Evila took their 7-year-old daughter over the rutted dirt roads to the pharmacy in Intipuca. "She is sick," said Rosa, "because she has been without her father for three years."
Umana wore his best doubleknit slacks with a matching yellow shirt; Rosa, a neat orange dress with a rhinestone brooch. They looked like tourists among the few peasants who loitered about the village. Umana and his wife smiled at each other constantly, her arm in his as they walked along. "I am very, very happy," Rosa told a visitor.
"I hope that some day," Umana said, "we can all go to the United States together-but legally. I am going to write the American embassy tomorrow to see if it is possible . . . if it is not-well, it is too soon to think of that again." CAPTION: Map, no caption, By Richard Furno-The Washington Post