Fear and loathing on the US-Mexico border

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At the San Ysidro land border crossing, I learned that you could be fined $300 for eating a mandarin orange.

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On November 8, 2021, the United States reopened its borders to eligible international travelers who have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, making it “non-essential” as implemented at the start of the pandemic in March 2020. Restrictions on travel” expired.


Of course, US borders are not really “open” to most of Earth’s population – vaccinated or not – such as the nature of imperial hypocrisy in a world where America is militarily and financially free to cross other people’s borders while being locked down. is free to Individuals fleeing the military and economic havoc imposed by the US, inter alia, have their own limits.

The grand November “reopening” drew such encouraging headlines as the BBC’s “view of the experience as the first visitors to the US after a 20-month ban”.

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Regarding the reopening of the San Ysidro land border between the Mexican city of Tijuana and the US state of California, meanwhile, the San Diego Union-Tribune newspaper similarly emphasized: “The border eases again to cheers, hugs and tearful reunions. opens with.”

Granted, San Ysidro was never closed to American citizens, who were free to come and go—vaccinated or not—since the royal prerogative is, you know, “essential.” The arrangement did not naturally deter xenophobic representatives of the US political establishment from blaming the spread of COVID-19 along the southern US border on “illegal” migrants.

Unfortunately, I myself experienced the reopening of San Ysidro – albeit a day late, on November 9th. And it was far from a happy occasion.

A US citizen, I had spent the past 18 years escaping the country in the interest of my mental health, traveling the world at all costs in a relentless moral conundrum: namely, the ability to cross international borders thanks to much Thanks a homeland given passport that I hated.

However, on 9th November, I had to return home for a day. The pandemic had put a temporary hold on my frantic travels, and had taken the closest thing I had to a certain residence in the Mexican state of Oaxaca in two decades.

Now I had to renew my Mexican visa, and so I flew from Oaxaca to Tijuana to kill two birds with one stone: walk across the border and back and be given six more months in Mexico, while also meeting those conditions. Follows in which non-Gringo migrants were forced to try to survive in Tijuana as they wait in punitive limbo in a city that serves as a backyard migrant holding pen for the US and its everlasting military frontier. acted as.

I visited a hopeless migrant camp called El Chaparral in Tijuana, just a few stones’ throw from California, which was recently shut down by Mexican officials carrying out America’s anti-migrant dirty work – giving it a blow It was a kind of zoo. The atmosphere was bleak even from outside the fence, and one family had properly draped a tapestry featuring the Pope emoji on one side of their tent.

Thus I should have had little to complain about when I went for my own visa renewal excursion, which involved waiting in line for less than an hour to enter the United States. And yet it was asphyxiating in an over-privileged way.

Before going to the border, I got into a conversation with an elderly man from the Mexican state of Sinaloa—infamous for his namesake drug cartel—who had been living in Tijuana for years. He informed me that he didn’t mind going to the US whenever the country asked him for a visa, but it was “not a place to live”.

Sure, it was possible to do a lot of shopping in America, he said, but there was no sense of community — and essentially no life.

As soul-crushing as a place may sound, however, it is still a safe place for many people in Central America and elsewhere who are literally running for their lives from decades of US-backed violence. Huh.

But these are not the people who now have the option of walking across the “reopened” border.

My own waltz in San Ysidro involved approaching a US border officer with polite greetings—once the person in front of me had stepped forward—only to be strictly ordered back in line until I was called. I obediently returned a few steps to the line and turned, after which I was immediately called back to the desk.

The theater of the absurd continued from there, and I voluntarily informed that I had a mandarin orange, as border crossing with certain fruits is prohibited (but for Mexico to export all fruits to the Americas completely Well the “free trade” agreements that helped destroy Mexican lives and livelihoods).

The officer looked at me as if I had just announced that I had a nuclear weapon and demanded to know the location of the mandarin. It’s in my bag, I said, and maybe I can eat it now before I cross the border to avoid any problems.

Piercing me with the robot’s eyes, the officer said that consuming the said Mandarin would result in a $300 fine. Put your bag on the table, he said, and don’t touch anything until I tell you.

Eventually, the mandarin was pulled out of my backpack from Albania along with the red plastic bag in which I had kept it – a relic from my travels and a symbol of my inexplicable international plastic bag fetish, the ecological recklessness I have attempted to compensate for by ever throwing them away. no tax

After this the officer demanded to verify my destination in the US. When “my friend is picking me up and we’ll hang out for a while and then I run back to Mexico” wasn’t enough, he threatened to detain me.

In the end, “San Diego” served as a destination, and he wrote it down on a yellow slip of paper as I asked him if there was a human living somewhere in his interior—but I didn’t, because I couldn’t. was terribly afraid.

The officer ordered me to hand over the X-ray machine, where the X-ray machine guys disposed of yellow slips, plastic bags, and mandarin, but I retrieved the plastic bag from a sympathetic or at least indifferent Spanish-speaking border agent. succeeded in doing. ,

They also provided me with a printed list of permitted cross-border fruits, which included “lemons, Persian limes, and sour limes” as long as they didn’t have “leaves”—as well as avocados, but only with guacamole. in the form of .

I stepped out of this site of arbitrary, outrageous power and entered a surreal dystopia populated by McDonald’s, Jack in the Box fast-food restaurants and outlet malls.

My friend picked me up and we headed for San Diego on the freeway, the vast expanse of which appropriately embodied American dehumanization. I looked out the car window in horror in Catatonia, and he asked me if he didn’t have a car in Mexico.

We passed exits for Home Avenue, which looked brutally ironic, and Imperial Avenue, which was more appropriate.

And as much as I felt sorry for myself, I knew all too well that the cries about highways and Mandarin seizure at the border weren’t appealing at all — not to mention the whole world — that criminalizes migrants and refugees. Is.

I was, at least, able to quickly extricate myself from the country, but for many of America’s victims, the “Imperial Avenue” is the only chance they have—even if it is, as my Sinaloa interlocutor put it, “a The place is not live”.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.


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