IMAGE: Border patrolman opens gate to a dirt road next to the Mexico-United States border fence.
NOTE: The following piece is one of several fiction stories that I called “Border Tales” when they were first written. I began creating them in 2006. The topics are based on events that were current at that time. Unfortunately, the problems aired then are still with us today. The writing is based on real dilemmas that affect us all. It is work of fiction. Names, characters, places, events and incidents are products of my imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
National City, California. Circa 2006.
“Why do you say it’s not a real fence?” asked Carlos.
“Because it isn’t,” answered Jeff, an agent with the Border Patrol. “It’s just a virtual fence, you know, a sort of make-believe fence that is real, but it isn’t.”
“Whoa! Whoa! Whoa! Make believe? Real, but not real? C’mon man!” Carlos still did not understand what Jeff was talking about.
“Ok, Carlos,” Jeff replied. “I said sort of make believe. I should’ve said a fence that is there, but it’s not really physically there.”
“You mean, like an invisible fence?” Carlos asked.
“Yes, that’s it, like an invisible fence,” Jeff replied. “But one that will help us stop illegals from crossing the border.”
Both Jeff and Carlos lived in an apartment complex on the east end of National City, not too far from the San Diego-Tijuana border. The people that rented the apartments were mostly connected with the Navy or the Border Patrol. The proximity to the military installations and the border area made it convenient for them to live there.
“I think I get it, now,” Carlos said. “The fence is not really a fence; it’s really a line on the ground telling people not to cross it. You know? A line, like those imaginary and invisible lines we used to point to with our fingers to tell others not to cross them when we were kids?”
“And if they crossed them, we’d kick their butts,” Jeff corroborated. “Yeah, the virtual fence is basically the same thing, but on a much larger scale, of course.”
The fence that they were both discussing was, according to the government and other folks in favor of it, an electronic tracking mix of devices that was to be built along the Mexico-U.S. border to warn the border patrolmen of possible incursions of unidentified objects and people coming from Mexico. The ploy had been pushed by a number of congressmen and senators with close ties to government contractors who had built a number of these gadgets to be used in war operations. Some of the devices were judged to be at best faulty, after having been tested in actual war, but were still being described as cutting edge technology by the contractors and their insider allies – the spineless folks we often vote for to protect our rights and our money in the halls of the nation’s Capitol.
“So how does this virtual fence work?” Carlos asked.
“I don’t know for sure,” Jeff said, “because we don’t have it yet. But, from what I understand, once in place, the virtual border fence will track the illegals as they enter our territory.”
“For how long?” Carlos asked.
“For a little while,” Jeff replied. “But, hopefully, we’ll be able to catch them while they’re being tracked.”
“What if they get out of range from the tracking system or what if more illegals than you and your partners can catch come across at the same time? What do you do then?” Carlos continued his questioning, playing, as he often did, the Devil’s advocate.
“Then is business as usual,” said Jeff. “That’s what we do now when we’re overrun by too many crossers. We just catch as many as we can and hope that the rest can be caught later on at work sites.”
“You mean, during your show of force raids?” asked Carlos.
“Yeah, Carlos, during our workplace raids,” Jeff replied, sounding somewhat upset. “Yeah, the raids, the ones you call ‘chicken shit raping’ of your people.”
Carlos had been in the Navy for over three hitches and was currently assigned to a ship based at the 32nd Street Naval Base in National City. Originally from Mexico, Carlos was a naturalized U.S. citizen who hadn’t forgotten his roots or wasn’t afraid to rally for the rights of what he often called his brothers and sisters that crossed the border looking for work. While living at the apartment complex, he repeatedly discussed the issues affecting the undocumented with many of the border patrolmen that also lived there. During some of these discussions, sometimes under the influence of mind altering malts and spirits, Carlos had become acquainted with some the joys and fears that filled the cop-like minds of his green-uniformed neighbors. Most of the border patrolmen liked Carlos, though, especially those that praised the food that both he and his wife prepared for the weekly by-the-pool potluck parties. They also liked his sense of humor and his ability to deflate heated discussions with his timely one-liners.
“Okay, Jeff, I won’t mention the raids to you anymore,” said Carlos, displaying his usual disarming grin as he mimicked the arm movements that normally adorn a heartfelt hug. “That’s my virtual abrazo, Jeff,” he added.
Jeff laughed, but insisted on talking about the recent raids the Border Patrol had made on several day-laborer centers in San Diego. “It’s our job,” he said. “We need to show the illegals that we mean business.”
“You mean business as usual, right, Jeff?” Carlos told his friend. “You know, a few mean raids that scare our people half-to-death, as you guys, the enforcers, just go on with your own lives while most of those living in the shadows of what many call legitimacy, suffer from never-ending traumas caused by the ever present fear of not knowing when the next raid is going to come about. Right, Jeff?
“C’mon, Carlos, you’re getting too damned serious,” his neighbor replied.
“Serious? You damned right I’m serious! You’re killing my brothers and sisters, Jeff,” said Carlos. “With fear, with family separation, with uncertainty. Your actions are no different than those taken by our government during the Viet Nam war, when we dropped napalm and cluster bombs on innocent civilians, on children. Remember that little girl in that infamous photograph? That little Vietnamese girl that had to get rid of her napalm stricken clothes and ran naked away from her burning village? Remember? She was an innocent child. Remember her, Jeff?”
“I don’t. I’m too young. It happened before my time.”
“But, it happened, Jeff,” Carlos replied. “And there’s nothing virtual about that reality. Or about the Border Patrol raids and fear tactics I’m talking about. And all the other acts that you and your buddies carry out with the excuse of protecting our borders. They’re real, Jeff. And just as bad as what our government did in Viet Nam.”
“Why are you so serious today, Carlos?” asked Jeff. “What happened to your sense of humor?”
“My sense of humor?” Carlos replied.
“Just call it virtual, just like your fence. It’s there, but it’s not really there.”
AUTHOR: Pedro Chávez