By Shaylyn Martos
Lines that seem to carry on for eternity, hours in metal clunkers with no air-conditioning, and being scrutinized by people in uniform holding big rifles. The Tijuana-San Diego border crossing can be a place of terrors if you aren’t prepared.
Crossing the border is a normal experience for a mother, Abigail Arriero, and her two daughters, Marixa, 3, and Nicole, 1. Arriero is a San Diego City College student, a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident who also works in Lemon Grove, and her daughters are U.S. citizens.
They attend church twice a week and visit family very frequently in TJ. Arriero always carries her birth certificate, along with both of her daughters’, in the glove compartment of her car to expedite crossing. She keeps her “green card,” there as well.
One Sunday in September, after waiting two hours to cross back into the U.S., Arriero noticed that her brother had switched her birth certificates with his. The Border Patrol officer on duty approached Arriero’s car and asked for identification. She said she didn’t have it.
“How long did you wait in the line?” he asked. “Why didn’t you look for it?”
Arriero was sent to the secondary area, and tried to stay cool in a car with no air conditioning and her two young daughters asleep in the backseat. She said she noticed at least seven officers standing around, chatting, as she sat and waited.
She noticed a man being questioned by the Border Patrol and heard an officer say, “I don’t speak Spanish. You need to speak English.” She tried to get out to help the man and translate but was told to stay in her car by the same officer who asked for her birth certificates.
“So these are your kids?” he asked.
She said yes, they are her kids.
“Are you sure, because this one doesn’t look like you,” he said.
He gestured to her youngest, Nicole, who resembles her African-American father and grandmother.
“I have the stretch marks to show it,” she told him. “These are my kids.”
He responded, “Oh you do? Lift up your shirt and show me.”
Arriero looked him in the eye and asked, “What did you say?”
It took a few, painfully tense, moments until he laughed and said, “Oh I was just kidding.”
Arriero said she was afraid to respond even though, “He was about to sexually harass me. I can’t say anything to them because of my status.”
Then he mentioned that her children were dirty, and she explained that they had been playing outside at their family’s church.
She asked if the officer could look up her birth certificates in his computer, since she crosses frequently. After searching her car and trunk thoroughly, she said he “messed them up.” He came back to Arriero and said he found their paperwork on file.
Arriero was able to cross that day, although she said she won’t let this horror happen again. To prevent this, she makes sure to have her birth certificate before she gets to the line. She also keeps multiple photos on her phone of herself with Nicole and her black relatives so no one else can question her daughter’s legitimacy.
She said she believes that the president, Donald Trump, has influenced the way the Border Patrol has been treating people crossing.
“I feel like they’re more comfortable. They’re so extra but not about their job,” she said. “They just like to mess with people.”
Between the Lines reached out to the Border Patrol to get their side of this story. At press time, no one was available for comment. We will continue to seek their input.
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