“Me llevo a la migra”

“The Border Patrol took me.” That was the Facebook message from Mary Givins, a librarian and native-born U.S. citizen who lives in Tucson. She had been visiting in Mexico, a short visit, along with her adult daughter, Luce Guillen-Givins, who is also a native-born U.S. citizen (and lives in Minnesota.) Why were these two U.S. citizens detained for eight hours by the U.S. Border Patrol?

When Luce and I crossed the border at the East Calexico Port of Entry they sent us for [review], took us inside and said someone would tell us why. No one did. The only bathroom they let us …use was in a holding cell, which was all metal – walls, toilet, benches, everything.

They asked at least four times whose car it was. Asked for the keys, gave them back, took them again, kept them. Somebody else asked for the keys (not the most organized bunch).

Mary and Luce have family in Mexico – Mary’s husband, Luce’s dad, moved from Mexico to the United States many years ago. They have visited Mexico before, without problem. What made this time different?

Then they asked us why were there. I told them I’d like to know. After a while they gave us each a rather intimate pat-down, put us in the back of those dog-catcher vans they use and took us to the downtown port of entry. They let us keep our water and gave us lunchables. We were allowed to walk around in a big room and use the rest room.

We waited. And waited some more. They finger-printed and photographed us. We watched them copy my church songbook (maybe they thought Swahili is a secret code?!). We waited.

The New York Times has reported more aggressive Border Patrol activity within 100 miles of the U.S.-Canadian border in recent months. NYT’s Nina Bernstein blogged about her experience and research on Amtrak trains running routes that are entirely within the United States and on buses:

A minute or two later, on the Rochester-bound train, I caught up with the same agent just as Ruth Fernandez, a naturalized citizen born in Ecuador, was giving him her United States passport. These days she feels obliged to carry it whenever she visits her sister in Ohio, she told me later.

“Checking people, I see every time,” she added in imperfect English, as her grandchild slept beside her. “I don’t like it. Not supposed to.” In Spanish, she added: “He said it was because of terrorism that they do this. I think it’s for the immigrants.”

The Times reports that Border Patrol checks reach further inland, seem clearly focused on immigration, and reflect racial profiling:

Another challenge is pending in the 2009 train arrest of the Taiwan-born doctoral student, who had to answer the agent after being singled out for intense questioning because of his “Asian appearance,” he said. His account was corroborated in an affidavit filed this month by another passenger.

Similar complaints have been made by others, including a Chicago couple who encountered the patrol on a train to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., for the woman’s graduation from Vassar College.

“At least in Arizona, you have to be doing something wrong to be stopped,” said the woman, a citizen of Chinese-American descent who said her Mexican boyfriend was sleeping when an agent started questioning him. “Here, you’re sitting on the train asleep and if you don’t look like a U.S. citizen, it’s ‘Wake up!’ ”

Back to Mary Givins and her daughter.

A young guy (they’re all very young) finally asked us some questions. He was very apologetic and said there was no reason to arrest us (we weren’t actually arrested) and that we didn’t even have to answer the questions. What time did they detain us? Where do we live? Why were we in Mexico? Finally, for Luce “Are you ever going to another protest in your life?”

Luce Guillen-Givins is politically active, and has gone to many protests. The Border Patrol’s mission, in law and in theory, has nothing to do with questioning U.S. citizens about their political beliefs and activities. Of course, racial profiling is not its mission either.

After eight hours, the mother-and-daughter pair were released.

He said that it was a waste of his and our time and that he would get us out as soon as possible. An hour or two after that, someone said it would be a few minutes. An hour or two after that, they put us in another van and took us back. About eight hours in total.

If this happened in some other country, we would call it political harassment. What do we call it here? And how do we stop it?

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