UndocuAmerica: ‘The Most Beautiful Monument’
On an annual basis, I go to El Paso, Texas to see my grandmother.
I have no problems on the drive to El Paso, but when I return home to Colorado I must pass through an immigratin checkpoint. The U.S. has CBP checkpoints within 100 miles of the border. CBP stands for Customs and Border Protection. Everyone calls them the Border Patrol, but the agents don’t like that. They are really sensitive people. The name “Border Patrol” hurts their feelings.
Sometimes when you’re stopped they want to search your vehicle. It all depends on the agent and the time of day. If you have too much luggage, that might be suspicious, as you could be trying to smuggle something. If you are carrying a reasonable amount of stuff, that might be suspicious, since you could be trying to pass off as a normal traveler. If you are traveling without luggage, that too might be suspicious, since you could be traveling in a hurry. Don’t make me talk about passengers. That might be suspicious.
One night, when I was heading to Denver after passing through Las Cruces, I stopped at the checkpoint and gave them my EAD (My DACA Employment Authorization Document). The officer asked me where I was going.
Me: “To Denver.”
Officer: “Why are you going there?”
Me: “I live there.”
Officer: “How long were you in El Paso?”
(I actually started to count the days: “If I arrived on Friday night and today is Thursday night does that count as a full day?”)
The officer wasn’t really interested in my answer; he just wanted a reason to ask to search the trunk of my car. I felt that I had no choice — I said “yes.” I pressed the button on my 2004 Cavalier to open the trunk. It being a junker, with 200 thousand miles, the trunk door opens but it doesn’t pop up. It has to be lifted up everytime. Opening it with a key is quite the puzzle — really old car!
The officer asked again, “Please open the trunk.”
Me: “It is open. You just have to lift it.” (I imagined the officer thinking “Ehh.. This is too much trouble.”)
Officer: “Sir, get out of the car. We are going to use the search dogs.”
I got out and waited there in the open. It was pitch black, except the areas surrounded by the Flood Lights. It was also dead silent. I could see where the light ended and where the void began. Although I couldn’t see anything in the dark, I knew there were hidden shrubs, sand, critters, and — Immigration.
I waited under the watchful eye and close surveillance of five officers (as if I was capable of beating them up and making a dramatic escape). I waited in a resting stance: slightly bent knees, hands on my waist, relaxed elbows, steady breathing; and looking at them without looking at them. Otherwise, I could learn how many immigration officers it takes to screw a Mexican.
The officer with the search dog asked me, “Does the passenger door open?”
Me: “Yes. You just have to unlock it from the inside.” (Cavalier 2004, manual lock, rolling windows, busted dashboard: $1,500).
The officer told me that I could get going. He then asked, “Your trunk closes, right?”
After that experience, I always wonder as I approach a checkpoint, if they are going to ask to search my car. Sometimes they just take my ID, and that’s it. Other times they don’t even stop anyone and I keep on going.
Officer 1: “Are we going to stop anyone today dude?”
Officer 2: “Nah, I just really don’t feel like it.”
Last year, after going to El Paso, I decided to visit White Sands National Monument. I made a right turn in Las Cruces and drove until I reached the checkpoint. I always have my ID ready and I gave it to the officer.
Officer: “Where are you coming from?”
Me: “From El Paso.”
Officer: “Where are you going?”
Me: “To the monument.”
Officer: “Why are you going there?”
Me: “To see the monument.”
Officer: “Can I search your car?”
When she asked to search my car, I remembered a conversation that I had with Victor Galvan who leads immigrant rights trainings in Colorado. I told him about my previous experience. He asked me why I let them search my car.
Me: “I don’t know.”
He told me to exercise my rights the next time I pass through a checkpoint. So in response to the officer’s question, I said, “No.”
The officer took a step back and went to talk to her supervisor. I usually don’t look at them if I am not talking to them, since I do not want to look mean at them. The officer came back and asked me if they could search my trunk.
Me: “Is it truly necessary?”
Officer: Just answer the question sir.”
The officer went back to talk with her supervisor. I assume they did not really expect that kind of response. I imagined their conversation…
Officer: “He said ‘No’ to searching his car! What do I do now? It’s not supposed to be this way!”
Supervisor: “Ok. What if you ask him again and see if he flinches this time?”
Officer: “Sir, I asked him again and he said, ‘No,’ again.”
Supervisor: “Well… I um.”
Officer: “We could impound his car and search it later?”
Supervisor: “A Cavalier? We have standards here. Let him go.”
I was permitted to move on and in a few miles, I reached the monument.
Once I got to the monument, I went to their checkpoint. The attendant said, “Welcome to White Sands National Monument! Would you like a day pass or a season pass?”
Me: “I’ll take the day pass.”
Attendant: “Thank you! Here is a map and your car sticker. Enjoy your stay!”
When I am at a CBP checkpoint, I always figure that they will stop me, search me, and shake me up a bit. I have not heard of any DACA recipient being arrested or beaten at a checkpoint, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened or that I won’t be the one it happens to. If the agents think either I or my car look suspicious, that could be it for me — whether I’m guilty or not. Even spending a single day in detention could mean losing my DACA status, and that would be a disaster.
But that day, near Las Cruces, 50 miles from the Mexican border, I was stopped at a checkpoint and I exercised my rights. And my rights, as written in the Constitution, were respected. For many Americans, the Constitution is something they might take for granted. But that day, when my rights were respected — and the Bill of Rights was honored — I experienced the most beautiful national monument America has ever created.
Irving Reza is a Motus Theater UndocuAmerica Monologist. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Political Science from the University of New Mexico. He has been living in the neighborhood of Montbello, Denver for the last 6 years. During his free time, Irving enjoys spending time with his family and 2 Chihuahuas. He also participates in political events for immigrant rights for various organizations. Irving currently works at Growhaus in Denver, Colorado bringing healthy food to the Elyria-Swansea neighborhood (a food desert).
COMING SOON: You can listen to Irving read his own story on the Motus Monologues Podcast, here.
Or, hear award winning actor, John Lithgow, read Irving’s story on the Shoebox Stories Podcast, here.
This autobiographical story was written by Irving Reza in collaboration with Kirsten Wilson as part of Motus Theater’s UndocuAmerica Series: Stories From Our Undocumented Neighbors.