LAWRENCE, Massachusetts – When Nicole Ayala, of Killeen, Texas, decided to take her mother-in-law on a day trip to Mexico, she had no idea that she would be insulted or made to feel “as if I was a criminal” upon returning to the United States through the border crossing at Del Rio, Texas. Ayala, who has lived in the U.S. for the last 25 of her 26 years and served in the U.S. Army for five years, had left her green card at home.
Ayala’s mother-in-law, Felicita Caminero, a community and labor activist in Lawrence, Massachusetts, decided to try to convince the immigration agents to let her in. “She had her dependent ID from her husband, my son, who is in the Army,” Caminero said. “They looked in the computer and they found her there as a [legal] resident. Even though I told them that we had to travel six hours each way to get her green card, they were rude and said that there was nothing that they could do.” Caminero said she told the border agents that her two grandchildren were at home in Fort Hood with their father waiting for Ayala. The immigration officer “said he didn’t care.”
Caminero told the World that the immigration officers told them that they couldn’t let anyone enter without papers after Sept.11. Caminero asked the agent if he thought her daughter-in-law was a terrorist. The officer accused her of putting words in her mouth. Caminero responds, “I am only asking a question.”
Despite this, Caminero said that there were young Americans coming back from Mexico who were permitted entry into the U.S. even though they said they had no identification on them.
“Everyone that they let come in where white. They stopped an Hispanic couple and wouldn’t let the woman enter even though she was with her husband who showed a military ID card and she had a military dependent ID card.”
Things got worse. Ayala’s sister went off to get the green card while Caminero stayed so that her daughter-in-law was not alone. Caminero and Ayala decided to wait outside the building. “It was too cold in the building and the weather was nicer outside,” Ayala said.
The immigration officer told them to wait in the building and Ayala explained that it was too cold there. “Even though he tells us that we have to wait inside or go back to Mexico, we stay outside the building,” Caminero said.
At midnight there was a shift change. A female immigration officer woke the two women. “Go back to Mexico, aliens,” she shouted. “I told her no human beings are aliens, remembering the science fiction movies that I saw when I was a kid, that called all extraterrestrials aliens,” Caminero said.
Caminero continued, “I am a U.S. citizen. I told her. She wouldn’t believe me and asked me where I was from. I responded ‘I am from Puerto Rico and Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony and all Puerto Ricans are U.S. citizens.’”
“She looked at me and seemed frustrated. I think these people are used to folks being scared of them and she didn’t like that I defended myself.” Caminero, who is a shop steward with the National Education Association, said, “I just wasn’t going to take that.”
“Then she pointed at Nicole and said ‘this one is the alien.’ I told her again that no human beings are aliens.”
That was when the officer “lost it,” Caminero said. “She threatened to put me in jail. I asked her why? What are the charges? She replied ‘intimidating and assaulting an officer.’ I could not believe my ears. This officer was a tall and heavy woman and little me was ‘intimidating and assaulting’ her. I was the one who should’ve felt intimidated.”
“She told us that we could not be outside the federal building because that was trespassing, that we either had to go into Mexico or go into the building. I asked her how was it that being inside the building was legal and being outside was illegal entry?” said Caminero.
“We had to go to Mexico. They told us that we had to go inside the building for our safety, yet they made us go back to Mexico, where we had to spend the rest of the night in the streets.”
After Ayala’s sister came back from driving all night to get her sister’s green card, Ayala said, “I was treated like dirt, even though they knew I was a resident … I can’t believe this is the country I swore to defend.”
Ayala served in the U.S. Army for five years.