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True Stories by Steve Keely
Back in the USA
Diesel’s problem on the other side of the Rio Grande was his birthplace. South Africa is one of a handful ‘red list’ nations that is scrutinized by the US Border Patrol. Their nose is the NCIC. The National Crime Information Center is a computerized index of criminal justice information (criminal records, fugitives, stolen properties, missing and suspicious persons) available to federal, state and local law enforcement, and other justice agencies. It operates 24-hours, 365 days to provide a database for ready access and prompt disclosure to an inquiry.
‘Gentlemen,’ began the tall Patrolman, ‘There’s nothing wrong with getting lost on a hike. However, you entered the US at a non-port so I must take you to Immigration. I took a photo of the officer with Diesel against the paddy wagon before he locked us in the back. We sat on a steel bench in pools of water staring through a peephole at dust settling over ten miles of twisting roads. ‘Chin up, mate,’ consoled my partner. ‘The man claims there’s no wrongdoing.’ However, I knew the scenario would blow apart if they separated us at Immigration. ‘Stick to the story if they split and grill us!’ I burst. He cocked his head. I, in turn, discerned a wall speaker and pinhole camera in the back of the truck, and withered. I exhaled and changed into a pair of dry, black slippers and took off my cap.
The Immigration and Customs building in the center of the bridge over the Rio Grande between Ojinaga, Mexico and Presido, Texas intercepts most travelers to check documents and baggage. A forewarned US Immigration officer bounced out to greet us as the wagon door swung. ‘The bad news is I can fine you $5000.’ He guided us two steps to the building. ‘The good news is I’m not going to.’ The Border Patrolmen parked the truck and followed.
The US Border Patrol operates outdoors and draws patient trackers while the US Immigration officers sit for hours in borderline phone-boxes like statues with moving eyes. One gestured for us to sit with a knot of presumable illegal Latins inside a polished room guarded by tight-faced officers. In a minute he ordered, ‘Mr. Smith, please enter the room ahead and sit on the bench.’ Already the toying began when the agent called my middle name. Separated - Doomed.
I sat hard before a tiny camera and the officer in blue who opened, ‘What happened?’ I offered the lost hikers story. ‘So, you didn’t know you were in Mexico?’ ‘No,’ I lied, for there was no way out. He placed my index fingers onto a film linked to the FBI computer in Washington D.C. ‘The last time I got printed was to become a California sub-teacher,’ I bid. ‘It took one month to get the results so I could earn my first paycheck. How long does it take here?’ ‘Two minutes,’ he snapped. Content, he ordered me from the room and summoned Mr. Dyson. Diesel popped out in a minute, so I feared that we’d said something apart in contradiction.
‘I don’t understand why my Green Card isn’t in the computer!’ he ejaculated in the polished room. ‘Everything else is fine. (Winking at me.) I’ve had it for twenty-five years!’ Immigration turned a cold shoulder, so I cast a look of entreaty at the Border Patrolman who shrugged. A new Patrolman, an old, wise Mexican who was the supervisor, ambled in to confer with the other.
TV rumor is that three powers turn the world: Brute force, wealth and information. There must be something else, I thought, yet all I had was what I call my CIA slippers. They point straight ahead as to be interchangeable. I stood up and crossed my feet placing the left to the right of the right. After deliberating a few seconds, I changed the slippers to opposite feet, stared, and sat down. The big patrolman groaned with stifled giggles. Then I engaged the wiser, older man in green as Diesel argued with the blue immigration. We spoke rapidly of tarantulas, scorpions, rattlesnakes and illegals for which he warmed with anecdotes. ‘Once I chased an illegal that was bitten by a rattlesnake and performed the first aid myself,’ he told. ’ I asked, ‘Then did you help the wetback?’ Humor brings out humanitarianism, the instinct that Jesus was human only and not divine. A smile separated his ears, and if only we could leave the room with that edge. Finally, the Immigration officer snorted, ‘I release you to the Border Patrol with its bigger data base.’
We were locked in the wagon and transported two miles to Presido, Texas and into a fenced compound with parked off-road vehicles bearing the green Border Patrol logo. They ushered us into an airy building lined on one side with desks stacked with rows of computers and along the other lay three empty holding cells. I was no concern, they said, and free to leave, but I wouldn’t go. They took Diesel’s ten prints instead of just the index fingers for ‘absolute identification’, plus his picture. They delved into his personal history because of the birthplace and British passport. We were held for two hours and never attended a more instructive seminar.
An officer pivoted the monitor for us to watch the computer ‘think’ about Dyson’s life. The top line displayed standard bad-guy arrests and felonies and was immaculate. The second line of more profound data blinked continually, so an officer sat down with pen and paper and asked Diesel to dictate his autobiography. ‘I was born in South Africa but moved to London at age four… I was raised by Mum after they divorced…. I attained a Green Card at an early age because papa worked in USA… I graduated university with a CPA and Spanish minor… I became a London accountant for three years… Two years ago I took a job with the Baltimore based Agora Publisher writing a financial column… The elopement caused an office scandal… I’ve known Mr. Keeley a year, and here we are.’
Doubt punched holes in the truth with each new question. He got fired from his job a month ago for eloping with the boss’s ex-gal… His bio and photo were deleted from the Agora website a week ago… No driver’s license because he didn’t like cars… No home address since his newlywed was house hunting in Florida near a new Agora job... His cell phone was stolen a week ago. ‘NCIC wants more information!’ lamented the green giant. ‘They say there’s nothing on you in the system.’ The second line winked continuously. Another officer tersely hung up on NCIC after their half-hour harangue for more. Privacy occupies a shocking, low rung in America. Now Diesel’s life is on record.
The Patrolmen ultimately dropped their pens to ask for financial advice. Diesel pranced the white tiles looking each officer in the eye. ‘Agora is a contrarian publication. I love America and the opportunity to work and live and travel here, but there are some little things the government screens from the public. We cover President Bush with a dirty blanket of facts that even a Texan can’t pull off!’ Mr. Wilson was never prouder of Dennis the Menace. The three men blinked under fluorescent lights. ’Buy anything you can hold in your hands - the earth, gold and houses - because the bottom soon will drop out of this paper world!’ They took investment notes and he detained them into the night.
Meanwhile, I got the US immigration problem and solution straight from the Patrol. It seems clear-cut. Word of the 2000-mile wide open door between Mexico and the US spreads like free fire through Mexico to Central America. Daily, tens of thousands flood the border of which 15% are Central Americans. In Texas and New Mexico, apprehended illegals are given three tries and then thrown in jail on the fourth. ‘I put one at the Mexican bridge yesterday and warned, ‘If you get caught again, it’s to jail for six months.’ He won’t return… to Texas. He’ll go west where the opposite rep keeps the California border busy day and night. ‘The illegals in California are put in jail only after forty or fifty deportations.’
The Mexicans who originate from the interior are sitting ducks – or doves – not having heard of infrared vision, seen a helicopter, or understanding seismic detectors.’ The majority of illegals hire coyotes for $1500 to guarantee safe passage. The Border Patrol routinely assumes that every illegal alien caught and returned home subsequently tries again and succeeds. Typically, a Mexican coyote escorts an illegal group via assorted routes across the border where they’re hooked with an American coyote who shuttles them to various USA destinations. ‘It’s big business. A month ago we caught 100 illegals hiking the desert with the same brand backpacks containing the same articles.’
The Patrolmen were interested in the small things that I study which persuade the grand overview such as what’s in an illegal’s pocket rather than large facts and numbers. Illegal immigration opens a forged document market that endangers national security. What about terrorists? ‘True documents have watermarks and other secret features that are classified,’ one officer explained. ‘I was given the classified sheet and told to memorize and then destroy it.’ I suggested to the Patrol that a shadow law undermines the rule of a country. ‘I’m no angel, but as a schoolteacher when a keystone law is disregarded the classroom becomes a mockery.’
I asked the old supervisor if there are Border Patrol undercover agents and he reddened. ‘They would murder someone like that in Mexico! This is because the illegals are mixed in with drug smuggling. This is how the drug smuggling works: Each border town has a boss who controls a ‘plaza’, a large sector of the city. A drug trafficker pays mordida, a percentage, to pass through the boss’s turf. The boss in turn pays the generals and politicians. The money trickles up as the protection trickles down.’ He studied me from toe to head and maybe thought us undercover, as I envisioned he once was. ‘It is a mean business,’ he closed.
There are cheap, legal ways for Mexicans to become US citizen but it takes time and know-how. The border could be leafleted with instructions, I suggested. Lacking that, a smart Mexican can buy for the price of a coyote an air ticket to welcoming arms in Canada. ‘Don’t think the illegals contribute to the American economy,’ the Patrol insisted. ‘A little Mexican community pools its money to hire a coyote for one selected male. He enters the US to work and send money back so that other males follow. It’s gallant of the Mexicans but it’s a geometrically sad affair over here when we really can beat the illegals.
If you want to sneak into the USA, try it in California or Arizona and persevere. In the last two weeks, we had talked with Mexicans who’d been deported up to 40 times and were going back. But not in Texas! The Patrol succeeds in Texas and fails in California and Arizona for a single reason: ‘The west coast judges release illegals saying their jails are full. In Texas the judges jail ‘em. Likewise, coyotes caught in California are slapped on the wrist the first time, but in Texas they go to jail for two years. So, Texas isn’t a popular cross for large groups. It’s a short step in logic to figure that the allowance of illegals into other states gives them leverage to hire an army. ‘Presidio is considered a hardship post for new officers because of the remoteness and it’s quiet.’
Free in the night streets of Presidio, Texas on the Rio Grande, I couldn’t wedge Diesel off the phone with his newly wed. I left him in my clothes after ample warning with a blanket, not the first bold adventurer to be crucified on the cross of a young wife. His mind will clear and he’ll welcome the chance to strive with nothing but brilliant faculty like the other illegals. According to the Border Patrol, 20,000 a day try to take the USA border and 60 % succeed. The failures try again and again. I decided to dive deeper south to Central America and work my way from the start along the underground railway.
The afternoon after leaving Diesel, I sat in a Sonora canyon in a dry streambed next to a golden eagle. I started thirty feet away, and gradually decreased the distance until we sat ten feet apart. It had a dark brown body with lighter brown head that was wetted from fishing a nearby pool. He stood about 18 inches but was slouched, probably digesting, and didn’t rustle a feather of a likely six-foot wingspan. There was a long down-curved beak and one-inch black talons. Nictitating membranes blinked at me every minute, and maybe he mused he was the only golden in the world to sit ten feet from a wingless biped in slippers.
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