Racial Profiling and Harassment by Border Patrol on Greyhound Buses- There Must be a Better Way
On May 7, 2012 At 4:25 pm
Responses : 3 Comments
I bring up this topic because today I received a request to sign a petition concerning racial profiling on Greyhound buses. I will also admit this may seem a bit off topic for God Discussion, but as I read the purpose of the petition, I could not help remembering my last trip on the Greyhound Bus, because it is true; border patrol does get on the buses, at least in Albuquerque, New Mexico and single out individuals to ask them twenty questions.
However, I am also talking about treating humans humanely and with dignity, using reason and compassion to solve some of the social issues we face today, which does fit the humanistic worldview, with or without a belief in a deity. The problem is, I have no answers for the problems, but I do see a problem.
On the way out to California, we arrive at Albuquerque, New Mexico and when we re-boarded the bus, this man in an official law enforcement uniform began asking people questions, such as, “Where are you from?”, “Where are you headed?”, “Where are your things?” and even taking the person off the bus to inspect their belongings under the bus.
Most of the people had dark complexions, but there were some people questioned who were as light as I am, but of course, many were not backwards hillbillies, who grew up around other animals on farms and alike either. However, a variety of people rides the Greyhound to travel across the States and even into or out of Mexico, as well as Canada, every day, without the ordeals people deal with when flying. There are no baggage inspections, body scans, taking shoes off, stripping down to bare clothing necessities, or security checks at the gates.
People of color make up a large portion of Greyhound’s client base, but they don’t inform any of their passengers that they could be racially profiled, and even arrested, if they don’t produce the right documents.
On the way back to Missouri, the same thing happened at Albuquerque, only this time, the man in the uniform questioned me. He asked me if he could ask me a few questions, which I willingly obliged him and then he asked me something about my trip, in which I remember trying to say, “Vallejo” and ended up saying, “I can’t pronounce it, but my friends who live there told me to just say, ‘Valley Jo’. He smiled and I think almost laughed, because this hillbilly cannot say West Coast words. Then he asked me something about where I was from and I answered something like, “I’m from Missoura, Sir”. I remember he smiled as though I amused him or something. Then, like he did everyone else, he asked me where my things were, and I pointed to the compartment above me and then to my purse beside me, thinking he would inspect them, as he did others.
I did not feel harassed and was not afraid of him hauling me off as an illegal, but fully prepared for an inspection, as well as showing him my Missouri ID, though I did not know why law enforcement would inspect me. With an amused grin still on his face, his attitude turned into, “You’re alright” and he moved on to the next person, who appeared Native American. I could not fathom why he would bother that man either, as people started talking between themselves that he is Indian of said tribe.
I found the whole incident confusing, but then I witness the officer escorting someone off the bus and I did not know why. Someone said the person might have transported drugs or something.
Strangely enough, he left my new travelling companion, a doctor from Mexico, travelling the United States, alone too, as far as I know. She was sitting in a different seat by this time, but if I remember correctly, he did ask her a few questions, but I do not know if he asked her for any papers, as though she were a purebred Chihuahua.
This is a bit alarming, to say the least, especially when you find out from someone who lives in the area that the officer was probably looking for “illegals”. That is totally confusing, from my point of view, especially when you do not see yourself as fitting the profile, but of course, my own accent, though not heavy, probably gave me away as someone from the Ozarks or at least South of the Mason Dixon Line. I was definitely not from the area and obviously not Latina, but just an every day friendly American, born and raised, trying to get home and make the best of my ride among other hospitable strangers.
The only thing I could connect to the reason why he asked me questions was that I was just a friendly person who conversed with anyone who appeared friendly enough to pass the time with friendly conversation.
However, I find it confusing for another reason, because after hearing this from friends who live in the area say they were probably looking for “illegals”, it was enough to make me think to myself, “Do I look “illegal?” I do not think I do, but then again, South Americans look just like North Americans. About the only difference, I saw between my new travelling companion and I was that she was honest enough to say, “I’m a doctor, from Mexico, travelling the States and visiting friends.” She was not ashamed to admit that to me.
Sure, her hair was a little darker than mine and her complexion slightly darker than my own, but I never gave it a second thought nor was I concerned. Yes, when it comes to humans, I am “colour blind” or at least complexion is not the foremost thought in my mind. My first thoughts, when I meet people are “they good humans” and friendly, as well as whether or not I am in a safe environment to converse with a stranger, who is potentially a friend, even temporarily.
However, this is the problem:
Border Patrol agents even keeps records of the complexions of people arrested on buses. No really. Medium, fair, brown, pale, and yellow (yellow?!) are some of the 10 choices that border patrol agents can tally up after harassing passengers. Border Patrol’s own numbers show that the vast majority of people pulled off of buses had medium/black complexions. This is not a coincidence.
According to this list, while most people yanked off the bus have dark complexions, they do not rule out those with fair or pale complexions. Thus, the law enforcer could have been looking at my brown hair and some of my features, which I inherited from some of my American Indian ancestors, and assumed the possibility that I might be Latina, until he talked to me. He did not use my grey-blue eyes and fair complexion to rule out my fitting the profile of who they were looking for.
The fact is, Mexicans and South Americans in general, do not look any different from North Americans. Thus, any of us could fit their profiles, so they leave “no stone unturned”, as the saying goes, but I would not say the officer harassed me though. He just made me feel confused and wondering why he questioned me, but I did find him nice and not out to haul me in for something I am not guilty of doing.
At the same time, I have read many stories about Latino-Americans, of every generation, dragged in for not carrying papers, as though they were Chihuahuas or Sphynx, yet I personally know of second generation children, who look similar to myself, and speak English as well as I do, if not better. Their complexion is similar to mine and in some cases, their hair is lighter than mine is.
Something about this is not right. What I mean is, looking at people to discern if they are “illegal”, is not the best way to find people who are here illegally. Some people of mixed ancestry, such African-American and European-American, can look Latino, as well as some American Indians, whether they are part European-American or not. American Indians are legal, though not all are citizens of the United States, but I cannot explain what makes one tribe U. S. citizens and another not. Regardless of their tribe’s citizenship status, they all have the legal right to live and travel in the U. S.
Does this mean that all Latinos should have the same status? No, I am not saying that at all, but what I am saying is that racial profiling is a very poor way to single out who might not be a U. S. citizen.
Some people may ask, “But what other way do we have to find illegals?” Probably one way might be the tactic the officer used on me, but there again, the problem comes into play when a person is first generation and recently became a citizen or a hillbilly feeling like they are in a foreign country. I think it sounds horrible to ask them for their “papers” as though they are Chihuahuas or Sphynx. They are humans, not dogs or cats, and if there is not yet any evidence of them breaking the law, then I think we should treat them as humans, finding other words to request citizenship status and/or ID.
If, however, law enforcers were looking for individuals smuggling drugs, then I would say there must be a better way of doing it than looking for people who fit a certain profile, labelling them as illegal, because they do not carry their "papers". All this talk of papers makes me wonder if my Himalayan needs papers, in case they search his thick heavy coat and try to label him illegal.
I believe it is always good to carry I.D. in case an officer of the law requests it. However, if they are looking for individuals who crossed the border between the United States and Mexico, with or without smuggling drugs, then surely we can find a more humane way of doing this, other than racial profiling, which really does nothing, and asking for “papers”. It is impossible to identify who might be illegal immigrants just by looking at them and assuming that their accent means they are illegal or not.
However, if the concern over illegal immigration is illegal drug smuggling, well anyone, who wants to do such a thing, in the two American continents can do that. Racial profiling will not stop illegal drug trading and only wastes tax money, as well as upset some people.
Maybe I am naïve, but I think there is potentially a better and more humane way to do these things than asking for one’s [pedigree] papers and trying to identify people based on looks. Ending the War on Drugs might help, but then there is the other issue of illegal immigration. I think if people think about it long enough, we might find other ways that treat people like human beings instead of purebred cats and dogs, even if there is potential evidence of breaking laws, because the fact is, most of us, in either North or South America, are not purebreds.
Latinos are not Chihuahuas, Canadians are not Poodles, and United State citizens are not English Setters. We are all human beings and nothing specific actually distinguishes us from each other. Canadians could pass for United States citizens and U. S. citizens could pass for Canadians, just as Latinos and Italians could too, unless they are first generation and still possess the accent of their Mother Tongue.
I can almost guarantee, someone living on the United States side of the border, could go into Canada, and probably, unless they slip in a colloquialism, do quite well in the English speaking parts of Canada. Many U. S. citizens do work and even visit family in Canada, but live in the States, with few problems, but not from the U. S. to Mexico or vice versa. I find this a real head scratcher, especially when the Religious Reich and the Republicans scream about “the immigration problem” and specifically targets Latinos. Maybe Canada needs to scream about the U. S. citizens, living on the border, taking Canadian jobs. How would the GOP and the Religious Reich feel then?
Regardless, I enjoy taking the Greyhound and prefer it to flying any day, but I think we could find other ways to deal with these issues than talking to humans as though they were purebred cats and dogs or causing them to feel harassed for their skin colour. Bottom line, skin colour and other features are a very poor ways to identify potential illegal immigrants, terrorists, and/or drug smugglers, especially in the States.
Here is a video of a Greyhound crossing into Canada, which does not appear much different from the U. S., except for reporting to Customs.