Not Easy Being Legal
You think you had a bad day at work? Imagine this scenario. You live in San Luis, Rio Colorado, Mexico, across the border from San Luis, Arizona, which lies about 20 miles south of Yuma, and is bordered to the west and south by Mexico. You awake at 3 am to start your commute because you have to cross at the border checkpoint that is usually backed up for a couple of hours, and you have to be at your work pickup site by 6 am. From there you are taken an hour away to work in one of the produce fields that ring San Luis and Yuma. At 5 pm you are taken back to your pick up site and you recross the border into Mexico, getting home after 7 pm. And tomorrow you start it all over again.
This is the typical workday for thousands of workers who live in San Luis, Mexico and cross the border legally each day to work in Arizona. Over ten thousand Mexicans cross at San Luis each day to work or shop for the day along the Arizona border. Dozens of small shops, diners, and food trucks line the main street at the border crossing in San Luis. I stopped at one cafe that had a sign in the window that said it was open 24 hours a day. When I asked the cashier if it was busy enough to stay open all night, she said that 3 am to 7 am was their busiest time because of the workers crossing early in the morning.
I took photographs of the cashier and the sign in the cafe window, but they no longer exist, because they were confiscated and deleted by border patrol agents. I was photographing the colorful archway that crosses the border checkpoint displaying the flags of Mexico and the United States, when I was surrounded by six federal agents. One, the leader, was in a black SWAT-type uniform, while three were Border Patrol agents and two were Immigration and Naturalization Service officers. The lead agent asked who I was and what I was doing, so I explained my trip and it's purpose (which earned me a strange look), and why I was taking photographs. He asked for my camera and began to scroll through the pictures. He told me that the border crossing was federal property and I was under their jurisdiction. I said I didn't think taking pictures was illegal, and he said it wasn't illegal, as he continued to scroll through the pictures. Then he cited the authority of Homeland Security and his anti-terrorism assignment, and told me that for the safety of border personnel, he was going to delete all the photos that included border guards.
None of the agents offered to show me any ID. I guess their uniforms and their holstered sidearms were badges enough. The agent proceeded to delete photos from my camera, including, I later realized, many that did not include border guards, such as the cafe window sign and the cashier. He was very polite and after deleting my images he shook my hand and wished me a good trip. I looked at the six agents still surrounding me and asked him if I could get a group photo as a souvenir. He scowled and said that it wasn't funny, but a couple of the younger agents smiled anyway. I was able to snap one photo of the border crossing from my bike on the way out of town.
That same day I had two more encounters with border agents. While traveling from Yuma to Casa Grande, I was stopped, along with everyone else on I-8, at a border patrol checkpoint set up to search for vehicles carrying undocumented immigrants that have crossed the border on foot and been picked up in Arizona by an awaiting ride. I was waved through quickly, since it was clear my bike's side cases held no passengers. Later I pulled off the road for a rest and water break at a desolate road that became unpaved a few hundred yards from the highway. While I was standing next to my motorcycle
drinking bottled water, a Pinal County Sheriff pulled up and asked what I was doing. I told him and he said that I should be careful because I was stopping at a pickup spot for illegal immigrants. He pointed out the discarded water bottles and cloth sacks that he said had been left by those who had crossed from Mexico on foot and been picked up by an awaiting vehicle where my bike was now parked. With a friendly wave he then took off into the desert along the unpaved road.
Despite my three encounters with border law enforcement, compared to the workers that cross the border at San Luis each day, I had a very easy day.