COMMENTARY: 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 first” 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, so it was several years ago.
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, my husband, and I. We hadn’t been married overly long, and with my background, coming from a military family, I 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 a press conference a week back where they spoke about proper entry at lanes, first to stop at the lights, then pull through, but it turns out the Santa Teresa agents weren’t at that press conference so it started with some guff on that.
Curt yes’s and no’s from GS. She was handing back our cards. GS snatched them away, which elicited a question — “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?” asked 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 wasn’t until I realized they were unhooking the base to the car seat that I lost my mind. If you’re a 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 and curt, but believed that the agent acted out her power as retribution. The supervisor 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.
I broke into the conversation: “So, what I see right now is an abuse of power.” 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.”
And I continued on, about what exactly spurred on the agent’s decision. I spoke calmly, but quickly. It was right when the ma’am came from her that I knew 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 a complaint 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 Juárez, we get told to have a nice day. 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 is 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.
Cassie McClure is a writer, a wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of these things relate. She writes regularly the Las Cruces Sun-News, but also other places if they let her. She blogs about other things at desertsuburbia.com.