- ABOUT US
On September 12, I am driving on my way home from work. It is an approximately two and a half hour drive to Tucson from the border town of Douglas, Arizona. Looking at my rear view mirror I can see the beautiful lights of Douglas and Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico spilling into each other’s countries. The mere illusion of cities and people coexisting without borders gives me hope for a fleeting moment. But this idea of a place where neighbors can live in peace without Border Patrol vehicles, steel walls, or barbed wire separating them, seems impossible with the entrenched militarization evident all around me. This is not only directly on the border but extending into the interior at a startlingly rapid rate.
Thirty miles later, and away from the U.S.-Mexico border, with dread I pull into the U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint outside of Tombstone, Arizona. It is now late, and I feel vulnerable and alone.
Earlier in the day, I was in a rural town working with immigrant victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I travel to these isolated areas because the checkpoints prevent undocumented people from accessing services in the bigger cities. Many advocates like me have to travel to clients because they do not have access to basic human rights in militarized zones.
However, while I might have all my credentials and a professional demeanor, there is no exception if you are a person of color traveling through a checkpoint. Even officials from the Mexican Consulate get searched and questioned at these checkpoints while traveling in clearly-labeled diplomatic vehicles.
The American Civil Liberties Union calls the 100-mile-wide-strip that wraps around the “‘external boundary’ of the United States” the “Constitution-Free Zone.” This means that U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) have “extraordinary authority that would not normally be permitted under the constitution.” These types of stops are also known as “Administrative Stops,” which are random and arbitrary stops and searches.
As I approach the checkpoint about a mile to the north of Tombstone, I realize that I am the only car for miles around. There are many men in forest green uniforms wearing utility belts weighed down by weapons. The landscape becomes hostile as you cross the threshold and enter into the checkpoint. What was once a sleepy highway lit by moonlight and stars is now stadium lights glaring into my eyes. The reality is very clear that if anything were to happen to me, I would be alone and Border Patrol, as has been shown over a nd over again, would work with impunity. I pull up to where an agent is standing.
The young white agent looks at me with suspicion before I can answer his question. He has blue eyes and a military style haircut. He has a baby face and looks scared. I think that he is probably still in training. There is an innocence to him that makes me feel that had this kid been given born to more elite circles, he would have chosen another path. Who dreams about working at a checkpoint?
He starts looking at the back seat of my car. My car is visibly clean and empty.
“Is this your car?”
Something inside me screams, “Don’t you answer that question!” I know that from my training and experience as a human rights activist that I don’t have to answer that question. I have had unfavorable encounters before with CBP, and I promised myself that I wasn’t going to let them dehumanize me again under the guise of securing the border. I also know that I had to take advantage of the “rights” that still exist for me, and remind those who abuse power that there are still some of us who will challenge their abuse.
“Is this your car?”
“That is none of your concern. I’m a U.S. citizen, and I am free to go.”
“It is my concern. Do you have ID? Let me see your ID.”
“I am a U.S. citizen, and I am free to go. I do not need to show you my ID. This is a checkpoint, not a Port of Entry. Am I being detained?”
“Yes, you are being detained. Pull over to secondary.”
“Fine, I am calling my lawyer.”
I drive my car to the side of the checkpoint.
Before I can dial my lawyer, a Latino CBP agent approaches the car. I turn off the car. He identifies himself as the supervisor. He is polite, almost as if he were playing the “good cop” in the good cop-bad cop scenario. He is the supervisor and the fact that I am questioning procedure would later be comical to him.
“I just spoke to the agent, and I want to get your impression of us.”
“I am a U.S. citizen, and I am free to go. I need to go home.”
The first agent brings over a drug sniffing dog and circles my car without my consent. I remain inside the car.
“Am I being detained?”
The CBP Supervisor ignores me and continues to question me.
“Don’t you know there are illegals who try to cross, that your behavior is suspicious? I’m a federal officer.”
“I know that you are a federal officer. This is a checkpoint, not a port of entry. I am a U.S. citizen, and I am free to go.”
“I just want to know your thoughts and impressions of us.”
This is brought up multiple times. He also repeatedly identifies himself as a federal officer. I believe that he is identifying himself as a federal officer in hopes that I would ask for forgiveness for challenging the federal government. It is exhausting and ridiculous, but that is how it feels when you are interrogated.
“I don’t think it’s your job to question me about what impression I have of you.”
“We want to know why you are behaving this way.”
“I don’t appreciate racial profiling.”
“This isn’t racial profiling. There are illegals crossing.”
It is painful to listen to anyone using the word “illegal” to refer to another human being. The supervisor has a dark complexion, and I can’t help but wonder if he was not in the uniform and was wearing something else, if he too would have been detained along with me or questioned needlessly because he was driving while being brown.
“Yes this is racial profiling. If I had blond hair and blue eyes you would have just let me go through.”
“I am a federal officer, and this is an immigration checkpoint.”
“I am a U.S. citizen, and I am free to travel within my country without showing documentation.”
“No that’s not true. You have to show your papers.”
“Yes, to state officers, not to federal officers. I am a U.S. citizen, and I am free to go.”
“I am a federal officer.”
In hindsight, I should have stopped engaging in the conversation. However, one never knows how they are going to react when put in a very tense situation.
“I know my taxpayer dollars are why you have a job. Am I being detained?”
“I pay taxes too. I pay about $30,000 a year in taxes. People tell me that all the time.”
“You are free to call local law enforcement to check my ID, because I am not going to show you my ID or what’s inside of my car. I am done talking to you. Am I free to go?”
I now question my suggestion that CBP call local law enforcement to check my ID or car, but at that point I would rather have had state officials take over my “detention” than federal officers. Simply, I am thinking about what is safer for me.
“Yes you are free to go.”
I drive forward and am relieved to go but am still shaking with anger and fear. In the “constitution-free zone” you never know what can happen to you—you can be detained, deported, or even shot—and this is why Arizona and the U.S.-Mexico borderlands are an unsafe place to live.
Cruz is a longtime immigrant rights activist and community organizer in Southern Arizona. She has worked with groups like BorderLinks, Tucson Samaritanos, No More Deaths, Coalicion de Derechos Humanos, Pan Left Productions, and Migra Patrol Copwatch. Cruz has a degree in Latin American Studies from the University of Arizona and is currently working as a legal advocate for immigrants who are victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. She is also producing a film about savage capitalism and LGBTQ issues. Check out http://avessobrebarro.com/
To the readers - the two replies I read made me sick to my stomache.
To the author -
Thank your time that you spend taking care of "illegals." Some might consider your work unpatriotic, because of their love for nationalism. Some might consider your work Christian, as you are caring for the needy. Hell, some people might even think the work you do is illegal. Me however, I consider your work quite ethical. Despite immigration laws, the (false sense of) security at the border, and our judicial system that function as oppressors to our southern neighbors, people will do the right thing. Let's treat human beings as human beings, and put the name calling aside.
To me it was also very important that you thought of the man outside of his uniform. That man is just a pawn
Something to ruminate on: If ethical actions are those performed by the bleeding heart liberal, then what type of actions are performed by the die hard republicans?
You pressed this issue in hopes of creating a confrontation; just show your ID and move on.
If he isn't legally required to show his ID and does just to make things easier, he takes part in degrading all of our rights. That wouldn't be very patriotic would it?
Its people protesting, even getting beat and arrested, that have allowed us to assert our rights. Do what you want when you have to deal with police, but don't judge someone else for asserting their rights.
You should be saying thank you.
No, thats not why... He is simply excercising his rights as an American under the constitution. If you don't use your rights, expect to lose them.
Dream on, bleeding heart liberal. if you care so much about ILLEGALS, why don't you put up 10-15 of them in your house for a while....... why not... because you know it's against the law, and you are a law abiding citizen! That's why we don't see the King Of All Liberals,Rep.Raul Grijalva , harboring and abetting illegals either.
These are the same illegals who come over here and take jobs from American citizens, and their children. Four or five of them will rent a house and split the rent. I, who am Mexican American, have personally heard them brag and boast of how they took jobs from american citizens in construction, carpentry, plumbing, electrical wiring, etc. I go to a donut shop near my house almost every day, and when the weather is bad ( raining, etc) and they don't work that day, that's where they hang out. Contrary to popular belief, not all ilegals are ignorant and unskilled.. some are carpenters, plumbers, electricians, masons, etc. These are the illegals that take jobs for half of what an American citizen would be paid, and to them they are in "hog heaven", espeically when there are 4-5 renting a house together. Jobs that would nornally go to our children, grand children, friends and relatives who were born here or immigrated legally.
One day I was at the donut shop and it was raining so about 3-4 of them came in with their wives. Being that the rain kept them form working that day, they were enjoying coffee and bragging about how 3-4 " gringos and Chicanos ( Mexican Americans) were laid off and they kept their jobs( remember.. at half the pay). The wives sat separate from them and I heard them talking about how to scam the system( food stamps, welfare, etc). They were actually instructinjg another lady who seemed to be ignorant of the scamming process on how to do it.
If you also look up "california penal code 834b" you'll see that it is identical to SB1070, anmd it was voter approved. The fed law " rights and responsibilities of legal permanent residents" also says that among other things, a legal permanent reisdent MUST carry proof of their legal status. THIS IS A FEDERAL LAW!!
By the way, you mention the ACLU. The ACLU is so liberal that I'm surprised they don't say that since the HIV virus is a living thing, that it has every right to live and that there should be no research on trying to find a way to eradicate it.
The man is standing up for his Constitutional Rights and you're so caught up in your tribalistic left/right paradigm you make it a "liberal" thing, and use it as a reason to hate people that come from the other side of an imaginary line.
Also, what's wrong with people scamming the Government? The Government's always scamming us.
> The ACLU is so liberal that I'm surprised they don't say that since the HIV virus is a living thing,
> that it has every right to live and that there should be no research on trying to find a way to
> eradicate it.
What an awesome example of weaving an entire worldview out of your own made-up thoughts! You should write children's books!
American exceptionalism - no differen than the German exceptionalism the national socialist party sold to its sheep. Americans restrain immigration because it destroys the rigid welfare state, sounds liberal to me. Can't compete against immigrants in the job market? Pass laws that monopolize your skills- sounds liberal to me.