We had seen signs all over Chihuahua state advertising the new and improved border crossing that was in Santa Teresa. During the time, it was a straight shot for those driving from Chihuahua City to the outlet malls at the outskirts of El Paso, perfect for the late summer season that would start drawing thousands across the border for shopping.
We had taken our daughter to one of her first visits to Chihuahua City. I say, one of her firsts, because this is one of those events you want to block and don’t remember exactly the date, but Goober wasn’t walking yet, and still plump with baby fat. I think she was around six or eight months old.
It was a mistake. It was dusk and we assumed it was likely a shift change, but as half hours ticked by without movement, the usual – the angry horn honking – began. Short bursts of meeping angry and long blasts that called up other frustrated drivers to join in a chorus.
It was still a delicate balance between GS and I. We hadn’t been married overly long, and my background coming from a military family knew very well the types who are given power without warrant. We had huge blowouts about me trying to smooth over situations in front of border patrol agents; actions that he saw as patronizing to his rights as a resident and a human. We were both right and wrong, and that’s the worst situation to be in with your spouse.
This time, I was silent. He was fuming when we finally made it to the agent. He’d been at press conference a week back where they spoke about proper entry at lanes, first to stop at the lights, then pull through, but, turns out the Santa Teresa agents weren’t at that press conference so it started with some guff on that.
Curt, yes and no’s from GS. She was handing back our cards. GS snatched them away which elicited a, “Do you have a problem?” No, from GS. Pressed, he may have mentioned that it certainly took a while to get through. “Oh? Secondary” and she pointed. “What?” said GS. “SECONDARY,” she demanded.
I probably let out a forceful sigh. Secondary is when you get your car really, really inspected. You get out, get put on metal tables much like they put bodies on at a morgue, and wait for them to ransack your belongings. Goober was happy to be in my lap and out of the car for a change.
It was until I realized that they were unhooking the base to the car seat that I lost my mind. If you’re parent, you know, but let me fill in those others. The base to a car seat is an infernal contraption that you have to knee into the seat cushion to get it down and tight, all the while making sure that the seatbelt doesn’t lose its lock position with one hand. It’s annoying.
And, to an extent, annoying is part of the game now for measures of “safety.” This, and who buys drugs, isn’t a debate I’ll have here. I was just a bit done in the moment. The agent guarding us, got a call from me, “Hey, let me speak to your supervisor.” He did a bit of a tick, “Why?” “Who is your supervisor.” “I’ll be right back.”
A short Hispanic lady came out from the booth. GS explained that he was gruff, curt, but believed that the agent acted out her power as retribution. She explained that it was the agent’s call and within their rights. They were still rifling through our clothes, with the car seat on the ground next to the car.
“So, what I see right now is an abuse of power,” I broke into the conversation. She looked over to me and Goober on my lap. Goober gurgled happily. “This is an abuse of power because there was no need to pull us into secondary; she was about to let us go until she changed her mind.”
“Ma’am -” And I continued on, about what exactly spurred on her decision. I spoke calmly, but quickly. It’s right when the ma’am came from her that I knew that I made her nervous. She held a brochure in her hand, which described the complaint filing process, and she placed in front of the face of my baby. “I can’t be serious with her laughing at me,” she said. It broke the spell of authority, and she waved to the agents who got out of our car, leaving us to fight with the car seat before leaving.
It’s absurd. I didn’t file because I’ve had this happen so many times, and have so many stories, but what I implied in the moment was that it was an abuse of power and we all knew it. If I’m driving back from Juarez, we get told to have a nice days. My husband, now a U.S. citizen, still gets the third degree. The checkpoints, never a problem to white me. My husband, let’s discuss itinerary.
But, is it worth it to fight it in the moment? No. Their power in the moment are just words with threats of intimidation, under the veil of justice. Strangely our words mean more than we think, but, we keep quiet. I didn’t speak up, because they haven’t come for me yet.