"Papers please:" My journey along the border

"Papers please:" My journey along the border

"Have your documents ready."

That is what the sign read as I recently drove through South Texas between Eagle Pass and Carrizo Springs, my mother's hometown.

We approached a U.S. Border Patrol checkpoint about 20 miles inland from the border on a deserted stretch of road along U.S. Route 277.

"What is your citizenship?" the Border Patrol agent asked us.

"U.S.," I said.

I held my passport in my hand and my mother and stepfather held up their passport cards. They look like driver's licenses but they are actual passport IDs issued for road travel into Mexico or Canada.

My mom, who now lives near San Antonio, reminded us before our road trip that we had to carry proof of our citizenship as we drove through south Texas near the U.S.-Mexico border.

"Go on," the border agent said and waved us through. We drove forward in the oppressive heat through the dry landscape dotted with mesquite trees and cactus plants.

On the same day we passed through the border checkpoint, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the "papers please" portion of Arizona's controversial immigration law SB 1070.

I am a U.S. citizen and I was born in Chicago. But if I travel to border states like Arizona or Texas I have to carry "proof" of my citizenship.


Because I am dark-skinned and I am of Mexican heritage.

One reason that many Latinos, especially Mexican-Americans like myself are so upset by this Arizona law is that our families have been here for generations. Let's remember that Arizona, Texas and other southwestern states were once part of Mexico.

In my family's case, my maternal great grandfather, Candelario Ortiz, first crossed the border from Mexico into Texas circa 1890. Back then you didn't need to show your papers. I'm told you only needed to pay a nickel to cross the border.

Ortiz was the first "lawman" shot in the line of duty in Dimmit County, Texas. He was a deputy sheriff and was killed by men smuggling guns into Mexico in 1913.

Now almost 100 years later I have to carry "papers" to show proof of my citizenship.

Many other states have passed anti-immigration laws from Oklahoma to Alabama. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has said that he wants to push again for a Texas state law that would imitate Arizona's "papers please" provision. It would allow police to ask a detained person about their immigration status.

The concern is that this Arizona law and others like it will lead to racial profiling of Latinos like me and my parents.

How do police decide who to stop? If you look Mexican, does that make you suspicious?

I am sure that if my parents and I were of northern European ancestry we wouldn't be worried or feel compelled to carry our papers.

There are more than 50 millions Hispanics in the United States and the vast majority are here legally. It is estimated that 81 percent of the 11.2 million undocumented in the United States are Hispanic, according to the Pew Hispanic Center.

Do the math. The majority of Latinos will be suspect under these laws when less than 20 percent are undocumented.

We should not be targeted or have to show proof of our citizenship.The fact that we may have brown skin, or that some speak with an accent or wear a cowboy hat makes us suspicious.

My stepfather, a naturalized U.S. citizen, has lived in the United States almost 60 years. He is from Mexico and still has an accent and wears a cowboy hat.

My mom once told a Border Agent who questioned her on a bus ride through south Texas that the only green card she has is an American Express.

My cousin in Carrizo Springs carries a green card in his wallet. It is a green paper business card that reads "Mexican-American Green Card F… You Gringo."

This aptly expresses the anger that many Mexican-Americans feel about these anti-immigration laws.

Laws that cast suspicion on any group of people based on appearance, race or ethnicity are simply unAmerican.


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