Sent home from the borderBy Nicole Bauman
Crossing borders has taken on new significance for me. I expected a routine journey as I traveled from Canada to the United States for an assignment with Mennonite Voluntary Service. At the border, however, my sense of ease broke into pieces.
The paperwork I presented to Customs and Border Patrol officers was deemed inadequate for the visa I was requesting. As I tried to defend the legitimacy of my application, it became clear that the officers were increasingly suspicious of me.
The officers claimed I was deceiving them. They said my MVS assignment was a front to enter the United States illegally and stay indefinitely.
Nothing I said could convince them otherwise. The more I spoke in my defense, the more hostile they became. I was threatened with fines, imprisonment and a five-year ban from the United States.
After spending five hours on the border, I was denied access and sent home.
I am writing this from the United States, which means that, eventually, I gathered sufficient documentation to appease Customs and Border Patrol.
But the story doesn’t stop there. I have negative documentation on my immigration file. My anger and frustration still simmer and boil.
But these are not the most important aftereffects. What sticks with me most profoundly is the window those five hours at the border gave me into the ugly layers of oppression that permeate the border patrol system.
As a white, upper-middle-class North American, I experienced many privileges during those five hours. Though I felt disrespected and unjustly treated, it was clear that my white skin, my economic status, my formal education and my ability to speak English all made my mistreatment pale in comparison to how people from historically marginalized and exploited groups were being dealt with.
Many pieces of a culture of white supremacy played out in those offices. I witnessed racial profiling and behavior that I interpreted as an eerie worship of the power of the nation-state.
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