travel, United States

The checkpoint in the middle of nowhere

I just woke up from another nap.

We were in the middle of the desert, New Mexico. We were on US 70  — do the locals call it Highway 70? Either way, we were headed east towards White Sands National Park.

We were on a long straight-away and I could just see dirt to my right and the west-bound highway to my left. There were some mountain ranges way off in the distance. Then suddenly I noticed what appeared to be a bus stop or some type of crossing up ahead. Was it a rest stop? There was a small building to the side with a roof over an additional lane for us to pull up into.

As we got closer, Bryce and I realized what it was: US Border Patrol Checkpoint.

But, we weren’t crossing the US border! We weren’t even crossing state borders!

I honestly had no idea that there are so many permanent Border Patrol Checkpoints. (To clarify, these existed even before the current US President’s presidency). Border Patrol agents are allowed to have checkpoints within 100 miles of the border. Even though I felt like I was nowhere close to the border, we were within that 100-mile range to Mexico.

Being from Seattle, and a frequent visitor to Canada since British Columbia is about a two-hour drive away, I have never dealt with Border Patrol outside of a border crossing. (I just did a Google search and all the Border Patrol Checkpoints are in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. Not surprising, but there you have it).

Anyway, back to my story. It was mid-morning on a Saturday. We were excited to soon be at White Sands. There were not many cars in front of us. As we slowed down and waited just a minute or two until it was our turn to be questioned, I had a moment of panic. We don’t have our passports!

Since we flew from Seattle, we just had our driver’s licenses as our form of IDs. Was that going to be sufficient?

The truck in front of us barely came to a stop and was motioned to keep driving by the Border Patrol agent. Maybe there wouldn’t be anything to worry about.

The agent asked if we were both US citizens. Bryce answered, “yes.” Then the agent looked directly at me and asked, “And you, ma’am?”

One, I feel very old when people refer to me as a ma’am but also I was thinking that he just asked Bryce if the both of us were citizens. No matter, I quickly responded with a “yes” and then he told us to be on our way.

After we were on the road again, I kept telling Bryce how random and pointless the whole thing was. We weren’t asked to show any form of ID. Anyone could easily lie about their citizenship status. It’s just a racial profiling checkpoint, if anything. I could have gone on and on but I was preaching to the choir.

I guess we were lucky that the agent didn’t think Bryce “looked Mexican” that morning. Bryce has a tendency of being culturally ambiguous because he is mixed race.

“You know what that felt like? I asked, still annoyed by the whole thing, as I thought about others who’d have a way harder time at those checkpoints than we did.

“What?”

“That scene from Star Wars where the stormtroopers stop Luke and Obi-Wan in their little rover and question them.”

“Oh, I guess …”

“They were also in the desert!”

Maybe that Star Wars connection was a bit of a stretch. Both parties were able to go on their merry way though.

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