Upon reaching the border, the officer ran my passport number followed by a sigh of frustration, "oh boy," he said. The officer waved us over to a secondary inspection area. "Drive over to the right, but stay with me." I thought of speeding ahead a few feet as a joke but thought it wouldn't be the best of ideas. Practical jokes tend to be my reaction to tense situations. Thankfully, I have some restraint.
Waiting in our car, my wife and father-in-law were becoming a bit concerned. The night before we had a family discussion as to who would be driving with me through the border knowing that this might happen. Of the three cars of our group we figured my father-in-law was the champion of patience in addition to having a few hours to spend quality family time at the border.
San Ysidro Border Crossing (photo: otzberg)
As the first officer came to our car he told my father-in-law to take his feet off the dash and put his shoes on. I guessed we wouldn't be able to wait this one out in the car. A chubby Hispanic officer that looked like comedian Gabriel Iglesias with finger gloves told me to get out of the car and to put my hands behind my back. Upon doing so, the lack of the sound of clicking handcuffs was just as comforting as his saying, "you are not under arrest." I was told to lock my hands in the back where the officer held me tightly by my thumbs. As we walked to the holding area the officer asked me questions addressing me nervously as "boss."
"Have you ever had any problems at borders or ports of entry, boss?"
As I looked at the line of motorists slowly moving through the border crossing, I thought about the dramatic site of officers walking me with my hands behind my back trailed by my veiled wife and an older Middle Eastern man. I wondered if the passersby would tune into CNN when they got home to see if there was a new John Walker Lindh arrested at the US border. BREAKING NEWS: "Sue Myrick was right! Iranians infiltrating US border through Mexico."
The special hands-behind-the-back treatment was also limited to me. However, my wife and father-in-law were also escorted behind me by officers into the station.
As we walked passed the pedestrian border crossing I could overhear my wife talking casually to her escorting officer about Islam and Wahabism. The officer had apparently expressed disappointment in the the US media's portrayal of Muslims. We were taken into a holding area that resembled a DMV with what appeared to be Mexicans who were caught trying to enter the US without papers. The officers confiscated our personal items, wallets, etc and sealed them in official Homeland Security seizure bags. I was told to sit in a separate area from the rest but could see my father-in-law dozing off shortly after sitting with the rest of the men. My wife was told to sit with the women. She was later hushed for talking and told to look at the wall in front of her. I thought to myself that this was going to be more like high school detention than being processed at Guantanamo.
A change in shifts with the security officers became the cause of me moving from my special area to the general sitting area where I sat next to my father-in-law. He was earlier denied the request to retrieve his copy of 1984 from his confiscated baggage so he could pass the time reading and was fighting his urge to nod off now that I was next to him. My wife and I traded exaggerated smiles, trying to make the best of such a ridiculous situation.
A security officer I hadn't seen yet came into the room asking loudly to the other officers, "ARE THE IRANIANS STILL HERE?" I thought to myself, this is amazing.
"Por que estas con nosotros?"
I explained to him that I was also Iranian and that since I visited Iran for the second time in 2008 I have had problems reentering the US. He didn't seem to understand why that mattered, so I had a lot to explain to him.
"Piensan que eres terrorista?"
"No se. Ojala que no"
An officer came around with a rolling cooler passing out warm carne asada burritos. "Excuse me, I checked the halal option" I wanted to say, but stayed quite and passed the burrito to my new friend. The security officers dug up some instant cream of tomato soup that held us over for the next two hours. We had been there since 2:30pm and it was now 5:30pm.
The officer who handled my unique case almost never stood up from behind his desk and assured me he would get us out of there "very soon." He awaited a phone call after sending in my info along with my explanation of why I had left the country, what I did in Mexico, and who I was with. Once the call came in we were escorted back to our car and let loose into the US. The collective time spent "interviewing" me took no longer than 10 minutes but our time spent in this bureaucratic knot in my record lasted 5 hours.
Despite all of my complaining, this could have been much worse. I can hardly wait for my next date with Homeland after my upcoming trip to Pakistan.