For J-Swift, a spot date in British Columbia has turned into possible exile in Spain.
Last month, the original Pharcyde producer traveled to Vancouver to play a show with his former bandmates. He presented Canadian officials with his work visa; everything seemed to be in order.
But at the airport coming home on Jan. 15, U.S. customs authorities denied the Inglewood-raised 43-year old entrance to the country he’s lived in since the age of two. Rather than return to his four children and wife, he’s been detained him in Canadian federal prison awaiting deportation to Spain, the country in which he was born.
“L.A. is the only home I’ve known. I’m terrified I won’t be able to see my wife again or my kids grow up,” Swift, born Juan Martinez, says by phone from a federal prison in Vancouver. “My mom is 70 years old, handicapped, and afraid that she’s going to die without ever being able to see me again.”
Swift’s legal status is unusually complex. A burglary conviction during the L.A. riots marked his first brush with the law. Shortly after leaving The Pharcyde in the early ‘90s, the producer fell into a deep spiral of substance addiction, compounded by the death of his father and the dissolution of his record deal.
Bouts of homelessness and arrests for drug possession soon followed, as chronicled in the 2007 documentary, 1 More Hit. In the face of potential deportation, his children pleaded to a judge to let their father remain in America. The request was granted, but after several years of sobriety, Swift relapsed.
In 2012, cops arrested him for possession of less than a gram of rock cocaine, which triggered new deportation proceedings.
Last August, L.A. immigration judge Anna Ho ruled for his deportation. He immediately filed an appeal and left for the Bizarre Ride European Tour last September. No customs authorities flagged Swift on his return, even though (unbeknownst to him) the terms of his appeal dictated that he remain on U.S. soil.
“He unfortunately drew one of the toughest immigration judges,” says Duncan Miller, a U.S. immigration attorney who recently attempted to help Swift re-gain entrance into America.
“We basically went down to the border and begged them to let him in,” Miller adds. “I know all the guys there and they took the request up the ladder until someone in Washington D.C. said it was a no-go.”
Citing privacy rules, officials from the Department of Homeland Security declined comment. Shortly after Swift’s initial Vancouver arrest, authorities allowed him to stay temporarily with some musician friends. But after he showed up late for a court-mandated appearance, they threw him back in prison.
Legally, according to Swift's attorneys, he should be allowed back into the United States to wait out his appeal. But so far, all attempts to bring him home have been denied. Unless his attorneys can wrangle his re-entrance, Canadian officials will put him on a one-way flight to Madrid on March 26.
“This all basically comes back to two small drug charges. I’ve never sold drugs. I’m not a criminal. I beat a demon and have been sober for three years and providing for my children,” Swift says. “My only hope now is to go to Spain and continue my appeal, get my travel documents re-organized and pay a lawyer to try to get me back into America while I wait on my appeal. But if I can’t raise a thousand dollars to pay him, I’m doomed.”
The odds of him being allowed to return to the U.S. are slim. Even without a criminal record, L.A. beat scene linchpin Kutmah was deported in 2010. Slick Rick, Shyne and MF Doom have all also faced deportation or been refused re-entry to the U.S.
Hope isn’t entirely lost. Shauna Garr, the director of 1 More Hit, is currently helping Swift raise funds for his appeal. Mike Ross, owner of his former label Delicious Vinyl, also paid for one of his attorneys. He estimates he’s already spent $4,000 fighting his cases. A GoFundMe campaign is currently active, but had only raised $35 at press time. [Update, Friday, Feb. 27: It's now raised $340.]
“I just want to be able to see my family again, that’s all,” Swift says, shortly before his phone time expires. “I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place.”