I forgot my permanent resident card when I went on holiday. Thats why perimeter patrol agents took me away and set me in a cell
In Big Bend National Park my husband, father, daughter and I stood on the banks of the yellow-green waters of the Rio Grande.
On our side the US side we planted our feet on a beach of cracked dirt. On the other side, a 1,000 ft cliff wall rose from the river to run left and right, as far as the eye can see. It was the kind of picturesque photo-op that National park are built for.
I pointed across the river and told my father: Thats Mexico, to which he replied: Well if thats Mexico, why does Donald Trump need to build a wall?
The adults chuckled at the joke and my three-year old asked if she could go potty all of us unaware that we were in an area that is sometimes referred to as the border zone .
I didnt imagine that within the next six hours, I would be locked in a cell by US Border Patrol. My offense? Im Canadian and I didnt have my permanent resident card with me.
It began with a stop at the Border Patrol station approximately 80 miles north of the entryway to Big Bend, and merely over 100 miles north of the MexicoUS border.
You all American? a Border Patrol agent asked.
No, Im Canadian! I told cheerfully not thinking that my answer would inspire furrowed brows.
Whats your status?
Another easy topic, I thought. Permanent resident.
They asked for my permanent resident card which I didnt have with me. But I did offer my drivers license and my university ID, neither of which were of interest to the agents. When my septuagenarian parent identified himself as a Canadian citizen visiting from Montreal, he was asked for his passport. I didnt believe I needed to carry it because we werent crossing any borders, he said. Why do I need it?
I thought it was a good question.
My husband asked: Do you need to see my ID? The agents replied: What for?
It might be worth mentioning here that my husband is Italian-American, from New Jersey. I am a first-generation Canadian of Trinidadian-descent. My spouse and I arent the same color.
In the mid-1 990 s, I moved to the US for graduate school before moving to Austin, Texas, in 2007. I was born and raised in Montreal less than 50 miles from the Canada-US border and only a seven-hour drive to New York City. Growing up, my family attained that drive countless periods to visit relatives who lived in Brooklyn and Long Island.
In those days, we presented our passports and politely answered all of the questions asked of us. It was a routine that always occurred at the border not in a border zone which I didnt know existed before I traveled within 100 miles of the frontier between Mexico and the US. Aside from the picture-worthy mesas, glimpses of roadrunners and a string of Rock Shops, the border zone is the thing you pass through when you leave a day of family-fun in Big Bend.
It took almost an hour, but the agents were able to confirm that my father had flown into the US, from Montreal, on a Canadian passport. Yet they could not verify that my permanent resident card had not expired. Three agents repeatedly explained that I am required to carry my permanent resident card with me at all times a fact that I merely became aware of in the border-zone. There, after an hour of circular-questioning, a bullet-proof-vested agent said: Maam, we need you to step out of the car.
Inside the makeshift station I was told: You are in direct violation of the law. This is a question of border security. And I was asked to remove my shoelaces, shoes, scarf and anything that you can hurt you with.
Please, dont do this, I prayed. Can I please wait with their own families in the car? One agent took a breach from spitting tobacco into the bucket at his feet to watch his colleague back me into a 5 x 10 ft cell a cell complete with a seat-less toilet and some un-artistic graffiti which included the likes of swastikas and gems such as: Militarize our borders to preserve our white-power structure.
After four hours of detainment, and after they agreed to allow a friend of mine in Austin email them a photo of my permanent resident card, and after they told me that theyd done me a courtesy, a border patrol agent smiled, said: Youre free to go and pointed to where my shoes sat.
I cant remember slipping my feet into my shoes, or strolling back to the car, but I do recollect grabbing my daughter and sobbing in our sensible sedan.
Why are you weeping mummy?
Because Im happy to see you.
Because I didnt know if I would get to have dinner with you tonight.
Because I had to prove that I could be here, with you.
While Donald Trump shares his ideas on the value of a really big wall, the United States Customs and Border Protection expends upwards of $38 bn annually to safeguard Americas borders and serve the American public with vigilance, integrity and professionalism .
I consider myself the members of the American public. I have a social security systems card. I pay taxes. And a journey to a National Park the weekend before Thanksgiving seemed as though a good way to celebrate my husbands 40 th birthday.
I didnt realize that not bring my permanent resident card would result in my loss of freedom.
In this age of increasing dread, the US Customs and Border Protection has a growing responsibility not only to protect the American public, but also to help mitigate dread. Its core mandate will not be accomplished through an abuse of power.
Read more: www.theguardian.com