What happened last week crossing the border on my way home from Mexico made me ashamed and worried to be an American.
I was part of a group from Hillside Church in Corte Madera on our way back from a soul expanding mission trip to a Tijuana, Mexico orphanage which cares for fifty or so children whose parents were lost to some of the saddest street life you’ve ever seen.
It was just after 7 a.m. We were making good time in the long cue to the gates. We had not needed our passports on the way down, and had in fact sailed through the border coming down, including a pickup truck loaded with donated computers, tools and supplies.
Our drivers had been making this semi-annual trek every summer for about ten or more years. The long, drawn out border routine was by far their least favorite part of the trip.
Our caravan of about thirty people, led by two large older white vans, each containing eight to ten adult and teen volunteers, had been inching our way along in line for about a hour.
At last we could see the gate. Everyone was instructed to hand their passports up to the driver. One of the teenage girls asked what year it was. “Well then,” she said, “If it’s 2012, then my passport is expired.” Sure enough, her passport, and her brother’s, had expired last February.
Just up ahead were armed guards in dark blue uniforms with guns slung over their shoulders. Our quick thinking driver assigned me to drive, jumped out of the van and walked back to alert the parents of the two, who were in the van a few cars back. The parents quickly walked up to us and climbed into the front seats, the dad taking the wheel from me. The two children were upset. “How could our passports be expired, Dad?” The dad replied calmly that he had checked both his and his wife’s, which were fine, but he hadn’t realized that childrens’ passports were only issued for five years.
Inching closer to the border, I suggested that the mom take her pretty blond hair out of its pony tail so she would look more relaxed. She knew she had an acting job to do. “Mom,” her daughter started, in that piercing emotional pitch that only a teenage girl can reach, “What is going to happen? “ “Honey,” said the mom, “We are not going to go there right now. Now is the time to be calm.”
With just three cars now ahead of us, there were guards on both sides of the van. I was hoping we were going to be able to talk their way through this; that common sense would prevail. At the same time I worried that our sudden switch of drivers had been noticed, and that they could hold us for hours or longer if they wanted to. Somebody in the back suggested we all pray.
We were next. Our guard was decidedly American, a big, heavy set, middle age guy with a large jowl. He gave us a big fake smile as our driver handed over all eight passports.
“So what are we doing here?” asks the border guard.
“We’re part of a church group. We’ve been here for a few days visiting an orphanage in Tijuana.”
“Could you please take off your hat sir,” he said, the smile now gone.
The dad, a kind hearted man, lifted the faded, paint covered baseball hat that he’d worn all week, in the hot sun while pouring concrete and laying patio stones at the orphanage.
We all waited.
“What religion are you?” asked the border guard. (I kid you not. There are eight witnesses to this conversation, and some of it was even recorded.)
The dad, playing it cool, said, “Uh, Christian. Why do you ask?”
“Well, I could tell you aren’t Mormon . . . 'cause you don’t have horns!”
Ha ha ha, we all laughed. What choice did we have but to validate this jerk's stupid and hateful joke? After all, he would be the decider -- whether or not to make our lives hell for the next few hours or even longer.
We listened, laughed, and chatted him for several minutes. He turned out to be not only a Jay Leno wannabe, but also a boisterous and passionate preacher. It was established that both his family and our church had Baptist roots. This warmed him up to us. The mom in the front seat was a brilliant conversationalist. With her pretty hair and sweet smile, she took control. Here’s a little snippet of the actual conversation, which I quietly recorded on my phone.
The guard says, “I don’t think Baptists back slide, but the Pentecostals sure do.”
The sweet and funny mom trying to charm him, said jokingly, “Oh I know the back slide. I dance.”
His voice suddenly boomed: “YOU DON’T DANCE. If you’re a true southern Baptist, you don’t dance!”
The mom, pivoted like a pro. “Oh, I know. I don’t. But I can.”
“Then don’t,” he commanded. “In the Baptist covenant, about the fourth deal down, it says right there, you DON’T dance. That’s a big time NO! That’s a big time NO! Only the Northern Baptists dance!”
“You’re right, you’re so right,” the mom cooed back to him, “There are so many funny little rules; so how do you know so much?”
With her flattery, she has won. “Oh, honey,” he said, “If you knew half what I
Things were winding down. The guard confessed, in near tears, that his
mother, one of the great Southern Baptists ever, had passed away just two
We all moaned in sympathy. Our super mom said that his mother, up in heaven, must be so proud to look down upon her wonderful son, who is so kind and knowledgeable and funny. He brushed away a pretend tear and said thank you kindly, and then handed us back all eight passports, not even having looked at, let alone scan, at least five of them.
This was a big van with a lot of storage space. We could have been packing drugs, weapons, orphans, whatever.
We were relieved to pass through the border quickly and unscathed except for that dirty feeling of knowing we had been used. But his inconsiderateness, in keeping hundreds of cars waiting while we fed his ego, was crime enough. That this kind of negligence could be costing America in matters of security was another matter all together.
When you think about all the issues related to US border security, did it ever occur to you that our own big, dumb, ego-maniacal border guards might be the scariest problem of all? What if we had been Mormon, or some other religion he didn't like?
And worse, if drug runners and terrorists ever figure out that all they need is a charming attractive blond in the front seat, we could be in for some real trouble.