COMMENTARY: This is a reaction regarding a recent commentary stating that arguing with U.S. Border Patrol agents would be pointless. Before I tell my story, I need to say that I respect and admire our folks who work as Border Patrol and Customs agents. I have neighbors and childhood friends who work within these agencies and honor the uniform.
This commentary addresses those who may not know the limitations of their role or choose not to respect the limitations of their role. I will assume that it is due to the lack of knowledge of those agents who do go beyond the limitations of their duty as Border Patrol agents. Any other motivation of the agents who intentionally abuse their role I will address at the end.
I grew up in a family where one parent was a monolingual Spanish speaker and light skinned. The other was dark skinned and bilingual. We had constant challenges based on people’s expectations of culture, language, and stereotypes. While crossing, if my father and I (who are light skinned) would go through the checkpoints, we would be waved through easily. However, if my mother was with us, or my brother was in the car, there were always more questions. Again my mother spoke English and my father did not.
This would always astound me — that they would question my mother, who was more integrated into American culture, more than my father. The agents we had then would use the denominator of skin color to determine who to look at in more detail.
So the question arises: At what point do we assert ourselves if we feel our rights are being abused, or worse, ignored entirely? There was a recent commentary that stated we should not argue then and there with the agents because it would be unproductive. I respectfully disagree. If we as Americans feel like our rights are being violated we do have a right to verbalize it. Then and there. The person may or may not be aware of what they are doing.
However in doing so use discretion in how you … educate the person.
For example: As a contracted therapist I was going up north to visit a client and had to go through the checkpoint. The young Border Patrol agent asked my nationality and then proceeded to ask other questions:
- Where are you going?
- Why are you going there?
- What is the address?
To which I responded by saying, I will not disclose my destination as it will break confidentiality. Are you asking me to break this and if so for what reason?
The Border Patrol agent had a deer-in-the-headlights look and then waved me forward. Before I went I did state that in the future there are better ways of detecting patterns of deception other than strong confrontation and violating a person’s rights. To which he rolled his eyes and waved me forward with more enthusiasm.
Now I’m guessing this agent was trying out a questioning pattern to possibly detect deception, which would allow the agent to question me further. However, I had answered his questions honestly, directly, and as respectfully as possible.
From his point of view, he was doing field training and trying out questioning patterns. I get it; however, when we don’t speak up, even if it seems like an inconvenience, we become part of the problem. This confrontation does not need to be emotional, rather educational. Educate and move beyond the conflict. All will benefit.
Again let me be clear: If while educating the agent we let our emotions dictate the situation, we have lost. If we approach this from the standpoint of assertion and education, we win. If we approach in a reactionary, impulsive, condescending way, all of us lose.
Now if the agent’s pattern continues beyond the education/training and any complaints given? Then that is where serious lasting action from the agency needs to occur. If there are agents who are abusive, and if we assert ourselves then and there in a respectful manner through education and through their complaint system, higher-level supervisors will take notice and they will have no choice to act upon those complaints.
Complacency is easy. No conflict, no confrontation. No change. Again to be clear, I will say that there are smart ways to confront and other ways that take away from the message you are trying to convey.
Omar Reyes is a licensed mental health counselor and life coach and has been practicing in the Southern New Mexico region. He is also a proud father to two beautiful boys and hopes to honor them by being the best father he can be for them.