Ethnic Cleansing, Arizona Style: Eyeless in Gadsden, Trial by ICE

IMG_0203I’m getting into the border, as an entity, like skin, an organ in itself, a living breathing self-sustaining organism, barbarous and cruel, unrelenting but forgiving—despite my two detentions. I can’t wait to unravel its mysteries, winding through four US states, two countries, several political parties, several languages, several geographic regions and dozens of micro-climates.

The main mystery right now is whether I’m right that the Arizona border seems to be a cruel inhuman place. I’ve been to four out of six Arizona border posts, five if you count the Lukeville/Sonoita crossing that I’ve already crossed by vehicle several times within the last couple years, so that only leaves one: the San Luis crossing near Yuma. That’s where I’m going today.

Historic Downtown Gila Bend: all of it

Historic Downtown Gila Bend: all of it

I only stop along the way from Tucson to gawk at all the sights in Gila Bend, a Miracle Mile of dilapidated motels and forgotten auto graveyards. The power that fuels neon arabesque has long been shut off and the only iridescence is the reflection of sunlight in oil spills in gravel parking lots. Indian hotel-owners named ‘Patel’ survey their crumbling empires, while Mexican chambermaids relax outside of rooms with signs that read, “Don’t disturb.” Life doesn’t get much better than this.

From there it’s a straight shot to Yuma, check in at 2 p.m. sharp, check the WiFi, then head out. This motel is supposed to be in ‘old town’, but I don’t see it. I remember it, though, from maybe thirty years ago. I remember old people dancing—ballroom dancing. I’ll look for it later: ‘old town’, that is. That defines much of my current social mission, looking for and promoting the pre-suburb non-automotive happy healthy USA, now in sharp decline.

Church on the Plaza in San Luis, R.C, Mexico

Church on the Plaza in San Luis, R.C, Mexico

Route 95 to the border at San Luis winds through town and into fields. This is an agricultural gold mine, the source of winter veggies in the western US. There are trucks to transport field workers by the score: all Mexican, no doubt. There is a sign marking the distance to ‘Old Mexico’. ‘Old Mexico’? I haven’t heard that term in years—decades. It was never correct, of course. There is a town named ‘Gadsden’, just like on the other side of the famous mid-19th century purchase. I feel a knot in my stomach. I’m getting a bad feeling.

The Gadsden purchase is the new Gaza Strip, USA-style. San Luis itself, on the border, is crawling with Border Patrol agents, dressed in short pants and T-shirts, and riding bicycles. They’re cute.

“Can I take your picture?” just asking.

“No, sir; you can’t.”  Oh, well.

Crossing the Border in San Luis

Crossing the Border in San Luis

The town is teeming with people—Mexicans and their hyphenated American counterparts. I wonder if there is anyone left on the other side. I can see why they don’t particularly like it there, though. The streets downtown on the Mexican side are of dirt, and more than one of them, too. This town seems a bit rough, just a highway crossroads. There isn’t much to see or do. Walk around; walk around again, then that’s about it.

The border crossing back is true to Arizona form: DETAINED… again… for the apparent reason of… beats me… maybe being something… anything?… out of the ordinary… I don’t know. I know that the room for such ‘secondary questioning’ (my term, not theirs) is exceedingly close by, so convenient, more so than any of the others. The room is full, too. They do this often. Guys empty their pockets on the counter, and back up to let ICE agents eyeball them up and down.

Downtown San Luis, RC, Mexico

Downtown San Luis, RC, Mexico

Quien sigue? (Who’s next?) And so the routine goes, one after the other. I’ve been told that I’ll be called up, but am starting to lose patience. Gffft! Now they’re turning the dogs loose. The nice ICE lady points to what she wants sniffed up, and Gffft! Sicks the dog on it/them/me/us. Meanwhile, back at the counter, young Mexican guys are escorted to the back room(s), only to come back minutes later looking embarrassed and red-faced, adjusting their pants. Gffft! The dog sniffs up my bag. Gffft! The dog is making the rounds of the room, whatever the nice ICE lady fancies to be sniffed up.

Meanwhile a young Mexican lady has been explaining herself for a while to the guys at the counter, then finally comes and sits down next to me. I consider explaining to her that the seat next to me is labeled ‘defective’, but think better of it. The nice ICE lady with the dog comes up to the young Mexican lady seated next to me.

“Spread your legs!” she orders.

Huh? Did I hear right? No. No. Don’t do what I think you’re going to do. Please. No.

Gffft! She sicks the dog on the lady’s crotch while a handful of male ICE agents, a couple dozen spectators—and me—look on, thoroughly disgusted, in my case. Gffft! She does it again. That is the most humiliating, disgusting, degrading thing that I have ever seen done by an official of the law in my forty years as a traveler, in any country, for any reason, committed against someone who has probably done absolutely nothing wrong, except cross a border to go shopping, most likely. In my three detentions by ICE in three different Arizona border posts, this is by far the most egregious…

Quien sigue?” I jump up, tired of this charade. Time for twenty questions, twenty STUPID questions. “What are you doing here?”

Hey, I’m here because of you. I mean… I Mean… I MEAN: I’m just sittin’ here on the Group W bench, mindin’ my own bizniz; while you ICE guys—and gal—are using dogs to sniff up nice lady’s crotches, and all other kinds of mean, nasty, ugly things, and you’ve got the gall to ask me what I’m doin’ here? I’ve got a better question: what are YOU doin’ here? Who elected you God?

But I don’t say any of that. Humor is not working. I used to be disgusted; now I try to be amused. Comfort-food music and lyrics aren’t working, either. I feel violated, raped, penetrated and left lying by the road. This feels as bad—or worse—than the time I was trip-searched in the cockpit of a Continental jet in Houston leaving the USA way back in 1989, because the nice Customs agent (no ICE then) wanted to know “what that bulge in your pants is.” No, I don’t make this sh*t up.

The Mexican lady herself seems to be doing much better than I. I guess she’s used to it. That doesn’t make it right. What is this: Nazi Germany? I’ve crossed borders in 150 countries, and never seen anything like this, from one of my own public servants.

“I’m a tourist.” I try to crack a smile.

“What’s your favorite country?” The ICE man speaketh. Actually that’s the most normal question any ICE agent has asked me in the last week.

“That’s hard to say.” I demur… But I know what’s NOT my favorite country, you f*cking a$$hole, full of myopic Americans and our idiotic ‘exceptionalism’ in our ‘divinely ordained’ country. Exceptionally what? Exceptionally stupid? Exceptionally cruel? Beam me up, Scotty. “Madagascar,” I finally answer, not feeling like chat, more like disgust.  “Parlez-vous francais?”

The nice ICE man dicks around some more, feigning self-importance, then finally hands my passport back.

Outside the traffic is backed up for miles, heading back to Mexico. I don’t blame them. Tomorrow morning I’ll be heading to Yuma’s OTHER border crossing: at Andrade, California, and Algodones, B.C. We’ll see what a difference a state line makes. To be continued…