The Baked Potato, Part 3: If You’re Brown-Haired Near the Border, Better Have Your Papers in Order

Passing over the New Bridge to Brownsville was easy. Miguel just placed the Windst-r in the queue of traffic. Cristina even had time to get out of the minivan and shake her head at the damage he had done to the left rear bumper escaping their driveway. When they reached the front of the line Miguel showed his family’s passports to the customs agent and they were waved through. Miguel placed the wheels of the Windst-r on 77 and they drove North away from Mexico to Corpus Christi, then West on 37. They reached San Antonio at 2:00 in the morning and set out on Interstate 10 on their way to Nevada. The further they went from Matamoros, the Gulf Cartel, and the freeway overpass beside General Servando Canales Airport the better Miguel felt.

The children stayed quiet in the back seat, and even slept while the tires hissed over the highway. Towards morning Laura woke and yawned. She leaned forward from the back seat and put her lips close to Miguel’s ear. “Papi, I have to go to the bathroom.”

“Of course,” Miguel replied. He exited at the next opportunity. It would be good for all of them to stretch their legs and breathe some fresh air. He found a McDonald’s close to the exit and pulled the Windst-r into a parking space near the restaurant’s dumpster. Cristina carried Raul into the restaurant, and Laura carried the baby in his carseat. Miguel stood by the dumpster, removing the trash they had accumulated so far on the trip and placing it in the bin. He didn’t notice the Highway Patrol car pull up behind him until the officer flashed his lights and squawked the intercom at him, making him jump.

Miguel waited at the rear bumper for the officer to approach. The highway patrolman was young, with blonde hair, a slight moustache, and a rash of pimples on his forehead. He wore tall leather boots and his sidearm was very prominent on his hip. It looked like it could shoot an elephant.

“How’s it going today?” the patrolman asked. He was also chewing gum.

Bueno,” Miguel answered without thinking, and then changed it to “Fine.”

“That’s a private receptacle you’re dumping your trash into,” the officer observed. “For the business.” He jerked his arm over his shoulder at the McDonald’s.

“I’m sorry,” Miguel apologized. “It’s just a few items.”

“Uh-uh,” the officer shook his head. “No bueno.” He exaggerated the word. “You know you’ve got Mexican plates on that van?”

Cristina, Laura, Raul, and the baby had all come out of the McDonald’s. They stood in a semi-circle, watching Miguel standing helpless in front of the police cruiser.

“This your family?” the officer asked.

Miguel nodded. He was too afraid to speak. The officer leaned to the radio on his chest and spoke a few words, waited for a reply. Then he approached. His hand was close to the elephant-killing gun. “Would you mind opening up the back for me?”

Miguel felt paralyzed. “It’s just our things,” he mumbled.

“Any drugs in the minivan?” the officer asked.

“No,” Miguel tried to sound sure.

“Any of your family in the drug business?” the officer demanded. Miguel was shocked. Were the authorities watching them? Did they know about Carlos? Had they seen the horror dangling from the freeway overpass? Miguel shook his head slowly back and forth. The officer continued to stare. “Let’s see some paperwork. Driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance, passports.” Miguel tried to calm himself, tried to breathe deeply. It was still all right. He had all of those things. There was nothing illegal inside the Windst-r. He exchanged glances with Cristina, so grateful she’d made him procure all of those things.

A second police cruiser nudged into the parking lot, lights flashing. People moving into and out of the McDonalds began to stop and stare at the scene. Miguel had the paperwork in his hand. Maybe if he could get it into the officer’s hand, he could get them away before the second officer approached. The door on the second cruiser opened. Miguel thrust the papers into the officer’s hand. “Here.” Passports, Mexican driver’s license, registration, proof of insurance.

“I have this one.” Miguel showed the officer the copy of the I-140, Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker. It was on top of the stack of forms.

“I don’t care about that,” the officer snarled. “You think you deserve to come to this country and take a job away from an American worker? There aren’t enough jobs for people who are residents of this country, much less people like you.”

Miguel didn’t know what to say. It was too late to escape. The second officer approached. He was older, with gray in his beard. His face was stern. The first officer carried Miguel’s papers back to him and they spoke to one another. Cristina brought the children around so they stood with Miguel. The two policemen came back to stand beside Miguel at the Windst-r. “Open up the back, please,” the second officer ordered.

Cristina asked, “Don’t you have to have a warrant to search the vehicle?” Miguel was amazed that his wife would stand up to the policemen.

The second officer observed her. “Actually, no. I’m a US Customs and Border Protection agent. That’s why he called me. See the badge?” The officer showed Cristina his badge. It said CBP Border Patrol US Patrol Agent. “I have the authority to search vehicles or persons within one hundred miles of any International Border in the United States. We’re in Pecos County, seventy miles from the Rio Grande.”

“Be quiet,” Miguel told Cristina. “They can search the minivan if they want to. There’s nothing bad in there.”

“No,” Cristina told her husband. “We have done what we are supposed to do. We have rights.” She grabbed the papers from Miguel and thrust them into the second officer’s hands. “Look at them,” she demanded. “We have done nothing wrong.” Raul followed his mother’s lead, approaching the second officer with his yellow dump truck Transformer held out as a peace offering, encouraging the CBP Agent to accept the gift. The older officer with the gray in his beard bent over the sheaf of paperwork Cristina gave him, searching theough the individual pages and shaking his head.

“These don’t give you any extraordinary rights,” he told Cristina. “These are all just applications for citizenship that haven’t been granted. It’s good that you’ve filed them. The process is slow because there are thousands of people going through it, more every day.”

The younger officer snapped, “Are we going to search this vehicle or not?”

The CBP Agent flipped to the last page. “Wait a moment. Here we go.” He was holding Form I-131, Application for Travel. “This is the document you need.” Immediately Cristina darted her head in close to the officer, listening to what he had to say. “This document gives you what is called ‘advance parole,'” the officer told her. “Your passports give you the right to cross the border from Mexico. This document shows that you will be accepted back. That’s what we’re looking for.”

“Look at their minivan,” the younger officer sputtered. “It doesn’t look like they plan to go back to me.”

“That’s not a determination we’re required to make,” the older officer admonished him. “They have the right papers. I’m letting them go on their way.” Cristina squeezed MIguel’s arm.

Miguel felt his heart leap. Cristina was already bundling Laura and Raul back into the Windst-r. The officer handed Miguel their forms, passports, driver’s license, registration, and proof of insurance. “Just keep this one on top,” the CBP Agent told him. “You’ll be stopped again. There are checkpoints all the way through Arizona and New Mexico, especially on the Interstate. Don’t try to avoid them. Just show them your papers. You won’t have any trouble. Drive safe now.”

Miguel was in the driver’s seat, with his key in the ignition. He started the Windst-r’s engine. He released the emergency brake. MIguel rolled down his window and called out, “Good day to you.” The CBP Agent raised his hand as he walked back towards his cruiser. The younger officer stared after them as Miguel put the Windst-r in drive and pulled out of the parking lot. They were free again.





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