A Brush With Border Security

I tell people it’s so different in Ireland. Encounters with the police, if you can find them, are just generally more friendly and less confrontational. And this was just brought home to me. I still cannot imagine what the asylum seekers at our southern border are going through. But I now have a slightly better and visceral sense of it.

Seven months ago I applied for Global Entry. Like TSA PreCheck which is included, this allows me a faster and easier experience at airport security check points. Seemed like a good idea. Yes, there was the fairly intense and long Department of Homeland Security background check. But I didn’t think there would be any issues…until I went for the interview last week. 

When I arrived I was friendly, which is not abnormal for me. But they weren’t having it. They were civil. Nothing more. The interview was cool and efficient and predictable right up to the point where he scanned my fingerprints into the system. He raised his eyebrows. “Have you ever been arrested and fingerprinted before?” The blank look on my face prompted him to add, “even if it was a long time ago?”

Oh, crap. “Well, I was fingerprinted back in 1974, I think it was.” “Were you arrested?” “Yes.” “What for?” “Having two drivers licenses.” As I could tell this was not entirely plausible to him, I asked if he wanted the whole story. He did. 

Part one. At that time I was running a teen drop in center and my wallet was stolen. After I got a new drivers license, my wallet was miraculously found and returned. Without a second thought, and not knowing this was illegal, I put the old drivers license in my wallet along with my new one.

Part two. A few months later a dear friend from college was visiting with her German Shepherd. Tragically, he ran into the street and was killed. We wrapped him in a blanket, put him in the back of her station wagon, and found a wooded area to bury him. We were in the middle of this when we looked up to find ourselves surrounded by police with their guns drawn. Someone has seen and reported us carrying a body about the size of four-year-old Heidi Peterson who had been abducted and was the subject of a massive manhunt. You can imagine the adrenaline flowing through those officers. And although they discovered it was a dog, they really wanted to arrest someone. With two drivers licenses in my purse, that was me. I was booked and immediately released. Obviously my fingerprints are still on file. 

The TSA officer listened to all this and reluctantly accepted this was likely the truth. I thought the whole incident was, in retrospect, somewhat humorous. It was, after all, forty five years ago. He saw no humor in this at all and was clearly still suspicious when he told me I was approved for the Global Entry card. I walked away with the feeling that although not a proven criminal, I am defiantly a person of concern. 

Seriously? I’m a sixty-eight-year-old grey haired woman with inherent white privilege. What must it be like to be someone from a different culture seeking asylum? What must it be like to be labeled a dangerous terrorist before they even meet you? Well, we are seeing and reading stories of what it’s like. And it’s horrific. 

I grew up in a rather Norman Rockwell existence and my image of the police was much more like the Irish Gardai, there to protect and serve. But unfortunately my brush with border security tells me those days are well behind us in this country. The growing systemic attitude of shoot first and ask questions later, of racism and aggression, is palpable. Yes. There are absolutely good cops and officers in this system. I hope and pray they stay strong so that we may find our way back to a place of protecting and serving our people, not some fear driven ideology.

Judith – judith@stonefires.com