Alligators 'n Roadkill

Alligators 'n Roadkill
On The Road


Sunday, April 21, 2013

On Crossing Bridges When I Come To Them.

(Note:  originally posted on Dec. 16, 2012)

U. S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is a Federal Agency whose “primary mission is preventing terrorists and terrorist weapons from entering the United States.” CBP is “also responsible for apprehending individuals attempting to enter the United States illegally including those with a criminal record, stemming the flow of illegal drugs and other contraband, protecting United States agricultural and economic interests from harmful pests and diseases, and protecting American businesses from intellectual property theft.” (borrowed from Wikipedia).
So, what, exactly, is the reason behind the really bad attitude demonstrated by agents of that organization, at the border crossings into the U. S.? Or, to put it another way, can anyone explain to me why I have to feel like a common street criminal when walking across the border from Mexico, back into the U. S., after a visit to the dentist?
Here’s the thing. First of all, I understand that – like so many other government agencies – they are terribly short-staffed. I mean, for automobile traffic, I have never seen even half of the available lanes open at any one time. I really don’t understand why we paid for so many lanes if we cannot also provide the staff to man them, but that is another issue. Since we walked across the bridge in downtown El Paso (this was last month), we had to enter the large building that is located within the rather extensive land area set aside for the official entrance to the U. S. Now, understand me, in El Paso, Texas, we have a choice of at least four bridges to cross. And, there are a couple more international bridges within a relatively short drive, just outside the city itself.
First, the line of pedestrians to enter the U. S. was so long, that it was backed up onto the bridge itself. Actually, there were two lines. One was for folks who are not U. S. Citizens, and the other was only for those folks who carry a U. S. Passport. The single line for U. S. Citizens, while shorter, actually moved much more slowly than did the other lines. The reason for this turned out to be (obviously) due to the fact that the Inspector sitting at the computer for that line was asking a multitude of questions of each and every person standing in that line (for us, it took thirty minutes from the time we entered the building, until we actually reached this person). We noticed that people who entered the much longer lines (the non-citizen line from outside on the bridge becomes two or three snake lines upon entry to the building) after us were actually through, and leaving the building long before we got to our Inspector.
I always defer to my wife, and make sure she precedes me in any line, so the Inspector did not signal me to come forward until after he had exchanged words with my wife, and then he proceeded to address me in Spanish. He told me – in Spanish, and without a smidgeon of human respect, let alone courtesy – to remove my hands from my pockets, where I had put them, after handing over my U. S. Passport. I asked my wife what it was that he wanted of me, and then he told me, in so many words, “Take your hands out of your pockets!” I have not been told to do such a thing since my Basic training in the U. S. Army, more years ago than this young person has been alive! Frankly, I do not understand his need for me to remove my hands from my pockets at any time, and I still deeply resent being told to do so in such an abrupt manner. He next said, “Take off your cap!” Why? He did not say please, he did not – in my opinion – make any effort to address me with the courtesy that I believe he owes me as both a person older than he, and as a U. S. Citizen, a taxpayer, and a voter.
He then asked me if I had anything to declare. I said that I did not. He then asked me if I had any fruits or vegetables or medications, “that I was bringing back from Mexico with me.” First of all, consider the following facts that I believe even a sight challenged person could know about me from my appearance. I was wearing shorts, white shoes like tennis shoes, with anklet type socks, and a sleeveless shirt. I had what I call my “murse” over my shoulder (actually, the strap was over my shoulder, with the bag down by my right side), and a Baseball cap. I weigh over 250 pounds, and am only 5’ 9” tall (I’m fat; not the type of person to eat many fruits and veggies, if you know what I mean). In other words, I doubt very seriously if there was anywhere on my person where I could have secreted any fruits or vegetables, should I have wanted to smuggle a bushel or two into the U. S.! But, he had me with his request about medications, because the dentist that I had gone to see (the purpose of my visit) had given me a prescription for Ampicillin, a very common antibiotic.
I told the guy that I did indeed have an antibiotic, and he immediately asked to see it. I handed him the box of twenty pills, as he explained to my wife that we did not have to show him the prescription itself, but he needed to be sure that I was not bringing a prescription medication that is proscribed (apparently by his agency’s rules, but I’m not clear on this). He then got out a few pages that were stapled together, that I presume would be the list of proscribed medications, and he took his time studying this list. Come on, man! Ampicillin?! Really?
Ultimately, I now see why there are so few El Pasoans who bother with travel to Mexico any more. My Dentist appointment was at 0930, and it was around 1130 when we began walking back to the bridge to return to the U. S. It was nearly one PM by the time we got out of that building that houses the U. S. Customs and Border Protection facility in downtown El Paso. There is no reasonable excuse for such delay, and there is absolutely no excuse for a law-abiding U. S. (senior) Citizen to be treated with such disrespect.
I know that I should have asked to speak to this young man’s supervisor, and I should have requested an explanation for such treatment. I really felt like this guy was talking down to me like cops do on TV shows all the time when they deal with common street criminals. I am not any kind of criminal, and he is not really a cop. Yes, I understand the mission of his agency, but I don’t for one minute understand why he must carry it out in such a fashion.
I also understand that part of this problem might well be linked to the so-called Patriot Act, and if that is the case, then I can only conclude that this is yet another reason why that abhorrent Act should be totally rescinded. I think it is long past time when Americans should be free to move about their nation, and I think it is very obvious that all the measures instituted under that shameful law have produced exactly nothing. Oh, well, wait a minute. They have produced one result: No one enjoys travel any more. Air travel, especially. I remember when it used to be fun to travel by air!
But, that’s neither here nor there. My premise here is that border crossing in a border town should not be so complicated, nor do I believe that such high security should be a part of the process. Again, referring to history, I suspect that too many folks have forgotten what it used to mean to live on this International border with Mexico. People used to cross from one side to the other freely, and a serious amount of social and business interaction took place to the mutual benefit of not only the two cities involved, but the two nations as well. No passport was needed for U. S. Citizens to either enter Mexico, or return to the U. S. Now, one has to go to the expense and the hassle of obtaining a passport just to cross the border. The lines (of cars especially; sometimes 6-8 blocks long, with hundreds of cars) and pedestrians waiting to cross the border used to be much longer, and the wait time was very long indeed, back in the 1980’s, for instance. Today, the lines of cars are much shorter (not even a block long), but the wait time is just as long. Why? It has to be the increased scrutiny to which we are submitted, and I have to wonder just how important is this increased security………..

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