Misplaced power at the border
By Heidi M. Pascual
As an immigrant and now a US citizen – and of course, after 9/11 -- I am very aware of the herculean task assigned to our immigration
officers at our ports of entry, including our southern borders. They have been trained to spot people who want to enter the United States
to harm our country, or to illegally work, or to overstay as an undocumented immigrant, or to be a danger to themselves and be a burden
to the government. They have been empowered to decide who are permitted to enter and who should not. During the present
administration, this “power” has become absolute in ways that stifle a person’s freedom to even connect to relatives or friends who are
waiting for them in the US.
My daughter was refused entry at the Los Angeles airport last September 18 and was sent back to the Philippines after an evening of
detention marked by scary interrogation, consfiscation of her cellphone, and a thorough search of her luggage and body. They forced her
to give her password to open her iphone, read messages and emails therein. It was a blatant invasion of privacy that also controlled
completely my daughter’s ability to communicate with her family and friends.
The reason my daughter was detained? A Control and Border Protection officer believed that my daughter was going to overstay and find
work since her round trip air ticket going back to the Philippines was for six months. He right there and then cancelled her visitor’s visa!
My daughter has a multiple entry visa for 10 years, and as a real estate sales manager, her commissions from work allows her to take
vacations longer than other regular workers in other fields. She was scheduled to visit my siblings in Illinois, Texas, and New Mexico,
and to go visit Canada for the first time. Once the CBP Officer decided that my daughter should not be allowed to enter, he was not
accepting any explanation from my daughter, saying repeatedly that all she was saying were lies. He said that my siblings were not
“immediate family.” In our culture, THEY ARE. They could even file immigrant petition for other siblings…. of course, since long before the
Trump administration came to power. Only when my daughter said that she won’t jeopardize my immigrant petition by violating any US
law -- and after checking it online at the INS site-- did the CBP Officer stepped down a bit from his throne and told my daughter she can
apply again for a visa the next day. If this person wasn’t a jerk, I don’t know what to call him.
My daughter was scared to death, fearing first of all, that if she’d be detained indefinitely and we wouldn’t know where she was, we
wouldn’t see her again. As a result of this ordeal, my daughter has been sick. Her heart and blood pressure are not good at all, and
sleep doesn’t last longer than two or three hours at night. After two weeks back in the Philippines, it has not been normal for her. I told my
daughter it could have been worse.
What also irked me most was how my absence in the US played a part in the detention of my daughter. The CBP Officer pointed to my
daughter that her mother is NOT in the US that time, so my daughter answered that I have dual American and Philippine citizenship, so I
can stay in the Philippines longer than someone without dual citizenship. If I were there to explain, I would have told the CBP Officer that
since my immediate family (married children and their children) has been waiting more than 14 years already for my immigrant petition
to be approved so they can be with me in the US, I chose to go back home to them instead of being ALONE as a senior citizen in the US!
What just happened to my daughter has been happening to many people visiting the US, or even to legal residents, so I learned from
friends and legal minds in Madison. And people of color are, more often than not, the usual ‘suspects’ of our CBP officers. While I do not
want to mention the overused “greener pasture” reason for poor people coming to stay in the US, having stayed here for more than a
decade, I fully understand why many undocumenteds prefer staying and hiding, despite the harsh work conditions and the discrimination
they face both from Whites and other people of color who got their citizenship rights through various means. They earn much more than
what they earned in their countries and are able to help others back home. So, they persist, work very hard, and save. I’d say the poor
work conditions, especially in the fields, are even much better than the treatment they get from people who feel they have more right than
others. They only focus on the family they left behind and become callous to any form of social exclusion in order to survive.
Their ordeal, which at most times, is lifelong, is much worse than what my daughter experienced at the airport. Actually, I am grateful to
the Lord for my daughter’s safe return. As I said earlier, it could have been worse.