We pull up to the U.S.Border Patrol checkpoint east of Las Cruces. Ahead of us, a group of Hispanic men file out of the station and open the doors to their Ford Explorer. The agent asks, “Are you American citizens?”
“All of you?”
I want to quip, all but the dog, but I do not think anyone will laugh.
“Where are you headed?”
I flinch, and think of Michael Swickard’s column at Heath Haussamen on NM Politics, asserting that where I am going and what I am doing is constitutionally protected information, an assertion I agree with — in theory. My husband answers easily, “Ah, up to Cloudcroft. Going camping.” The officer replies, “Nice up there. Have a good trip,” and waves us through.
“We don’t have to tell him that.”
“Tell him what?”
“Where we’re going. It doesn’t matter where we’re going as long as we’re not breaking any laws.”
“You want me to tell the border patrol that it’s none of their business? You want me to make a political statement over a camping trip?”
“Fine. Next time we to through a checkpoint, if they ask, I’ll assert my constitutional rights.”
Outside of Hatch, New Mexico, we pull up to a U.S Border Patrol checkpoint. The husband broaches the subject. “Um, are we asserting our constitutional rights here?”
I hesitate. I just want to go the Hatch Chile Festival. I do not want to be detained by border patrol. I do not even really want border patrol to be aware of my existence, vaguely viewing them in the same light as the IRS. Border patrol has real issues to deal with beyond my middle class angst about rights. Is this worth it?
“Yes. Wait, no.”
“What do you want me to do?”
“Just answer whatever they ask.”
“Are you American citizens?”
“All of you?”
“Where are you going?”
“Just up to Hatch for the chile festival.”
“Never been up there. Here it’s a good one. See ya.”
And every part of me feels smarmy and weak. In elementary school, you do not get stickers for asking the teacher what right she has to ask you questions. You get stickers for answering the questions correctly. I still want to be the good girl, get the stickers, answer the questions right — civil liberties be damned. In addition, I want to get where I am going more than I care about making a statement. Does that consequently mean I care more about a day at the chile festival than the U.S Constitution?
I am most fearful for the country when I consider how many people are like me, people who want to go about their business without a hassle, who want to collect the stickers.