Folio — From the July 2019 issue

“Just Keep Going North”

At the border

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v: the rally

Thursday’s Arizona Daily Star had announced that “some of the most dedicated allies to President Trump’s vision to build a new border wall are holding a town hall in Green Valley on Friday.” These allies included the famous blowhard Steve Bannon, former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo,14 and Brian Kolfage, a triple-­amputee veteran who began a $1 billion GoFundMe campaign to privately finance a proposed border wall. Appropriately named We Build the Wall, the group hosted its event at the Quail Creek Country Club. Initially, it was free and open to the public, but by Thursday it was open only to members of the Quail Creek Republican Club. On Friday one of Diane’s volunteers told me: “Earlier in the week they said everyone was welcome, and now they say that only Republicans are welcome. In the paper they said they are only going to allow Quail Creek Republicans in there.” Green Valley being perfectly located on Interstate 19 between Tucson and Nogales, I decided to be a Trumpeter along with the rest of them, especially since I wore a red, white, and blue baseball cap that read butchers of america. (A week later, since it had served its purpose, I gave it away to a nice girl in Raleigh, North Carolina.)

14 The cast of Trumpeters also included Kris Kobach, the former Kansas secretary of state, and Brandon Darby, the editor of Breitbart Texas.

It was a wide room, filled almost entirely with white people like me, most of whom were old, but right in front of me sat a young man whose hair went down to his shoulders. He wore a black T-shirt whose back read patriot movement az; on the front, in homage to the old Pink Floyd album that had called upon us to tear down the wall, was a brickwork vista inscribed build the wall. His friend beside him wore the same getup.

Brandon Darby, Brian Kolfage, and Neil McCabe at an event billed as a town hall on border control, Quail Creek Country Club, Green Valley, Arizona.

Brandon Darby, Brian Kolfage, and Neil McCabe at an event billed as a town hall on border control,
Quail Creek Country Club, Green Valley, Arizona.

The great Mr. Bannon would not take the limelight for a good half hour yet; when he did, he spat out such oratorical pearls as the following:

moderator (a certain Neil McCabe): Steve, how did you get involved in this?

steve bannon: Someone gave me a call right after, well, I’ve known Brian for years. . . . And he just said, you know, he might want to think about flipping this from funding a wall where the money just goes to the U.S. Treasury . . . to a citizens’ action initiative to actually build a wall! . . . And Brian talked to the GoFundMe people, and here we are today! . . . We put the original gangsters or the O.G.s of the MAGA movement together to help.

“And if anyone who’s not media wants to ask a question . . . ,” said an event worker. Since I had situated myself beside a friendly old man who said, “Please,” inviting me into an empty seat, I upraised my un-­­American ears just in time to catch Brian Kolfage trumpeting:

We definitely need that. We need to know that intel of where people are coming across. We don’t wanna slap up wall where it’s not having an impact. We want our sections of wall to have . . . the biggest impact right away.

Three glare-­washed men sat on the stage before a kind of triptych that spelled out: we build the wall we the people will build the wall. This latter profundity occupied me for nearly a second.

“Do you want another question?” asked an event worker.

“I’m a resident here. What type of feedback, if any, have you gotten from the Trump Administration?”

The triple-­amputee veteran replied:

Feedback has been positive. . . . The president supports what we’re doin’. He approves what we’re doin’. And when we start breaking ground, we’re gonna be basically supplementing what President Trump is doin’, if he ever gets the funding!

And the audience chuckled sympathetically.

I think they’re projecting two hundred and fifty miles of border wall in strategic locations. We are gonna match whatever the president does. If they do two-­fifty, we’re gonna shoot for two-­fifty, because we all know that that two-­fifty that he’s doing is not enough to impact everything that we need. We have two thousand miles of open border, and the cartels are very adaptive, and we need to secure our entire border.

“Brandon,” McCabe was saying, “I don’t think there’s anyone who knows the border like you do.”

His answer:

We’ve been trying to expose cartels and tell the stories of Border Patrol agents and communities along the border, on both sides of the border. It’s not just the U.S. side where people are getting hurt by cartels, right? And we’ve been tryin’ to tell the story for almost a decade now, traveling all nine sectors, going into Mexico, and we’ve developed sources that are just unbelievable sourcing in Mexico, so we have sources on both sides. And to see so many people fired up and supporting Brian’s effort, and to see my old boss Steve Bannon join the effort, and to see so many people like you come, it, it, really, honestly, I could get choked up, because I see that we are, we are gonna win this. We’re gonna win this. We’re gonna fight for this!

And everyone around me cheered. When I forgot to clap, a lady stared at me.

So here’s the bottom line. I was very hesitant to get involved. We have been trying to stick it to cartels, to Mexican cartels, and make people pay attention in this country, to what specific Mexican cartels are doing to our country. And it feels like we’re yelling at, at a roof, like our ceiling, like no one’s hearing us, or very few people hear us. And when I started to realize that this group was going deeper, it’s like, like, hey, we need to build the wall. That’s one part of a multitiered solution to a very complex problem. But we also need to stick it to cartels, right, like we have to secure our country. When I realized this group was all about it, I joined in, and I’m honored to sit on the stage with you, and I really appreciate what you’ve done.

Audience at Quail Creek Country Club

Audience at Quail Creek Country Club

Uplifting their heads, my fellow citizens applauded, cheered, and murmured to one another. A woman’s spectacularly eye-­shadowed peepers were shining with excitement. The lady who had caught me not applauding now repeatedly turned to glare at my laptop’s clickety-­clack. (Had I been outed as a media agent?) A white-­haired old man shared yet another secret with a middle-­aged blonde’s ear, which neither twitched nor wiggled. A man in a pinstriped shirt was beaming, and a man in a soft sweater leaned thirstily forward. Ladies and gentlemen, I dub this democracy!

mccabe: Is a wall possible and useful at certain sectors of the border?

brandon darby: The bottom line is this. If you build a wall across the entire border, all the way to the moon, then the cartels are going to switch to come in through ports of entry. And if you secure ports of entry, then they’re gonna find a way to go back and get between ports of entry. The facts show that fencing, barriers, walls, depending on what’s needed in a specific area, absolutely work. Do they work one hundred percent? Do they end all of the cartels and make Mexico okay again and America okay again? No. Are they a vital component of that? One hundred percent. And I don’t think a serious person could allege otherwise. . . . Fencing and walls are a part of a larger solution—a big part.

He was correct. Let’s hear it from the horse’s mouth! Asked about the razor wire, the Mexican policeman who had covered his face assured me: “It does make a difference. This side, they don’t have to worry much about people crossing over. In November I did see a guy trying to cross and he got stuck up there; the wire did its job. He ended up getting helped down. . . . ”

So much for the deterrent. Now what about the threat? I mean, what about these mafias? Bannon’s boys laid it out:

darby: If you look at the DEA map of the cartels . . . they’re gonna say the Gulf Cartel controls from the Gulf of Mexico to Zapata, Texas . . . Del Rio sector and then it’s Sinaloa . . . and then the Juárez Cartel . . . and all the way to Tijuana, Mexico. But that’s just not true. Well, it is true, but it’s not true. The Sinaloa Cartel is made up of hundreds of different organizations. And those hundreds of organizations operate under the banner of the Sinaloa Federation. But they’re all different cartels, and they all have different temperaments. Some grow marijuana. Some grow poppy. Some manufacture fentanyl and methamphetamine. Some simply traffic drugs. Well, changes that we made in this country ultimately led to some of those groups saying, hey, we can’t make money off of our horrible marijuana anymore. So we need to switch to something else to replace our profits. And when you look at the Gulf Cartel, the Reynosa faction, they switched to human smuggling, and so now they make as much or more from smuggling people into our country! . . . Most of the guys you’re dealing with in Arizona still focus on drugs, but now they’re starting to say, wait a minute, we can focus on human smuggling, too, and we’re going to make all of the money from that as well. So this has become, illegal immigration has become, a fuel for the cartels in Mexico. So the liberals who think that they’re helping people in Mexico or Central America by allowing this to continue are actually fueling the very groups people are trying to get away from in the first place.

mccabe: What is it a head?

(I myself am seeking to turn myself into a human calculator and am dusting off three integrals and contemplating the square root of two when . . . )

mccabe: What do they make a head?

darby: It depends on the group. If we’re talking about the Reynosa faction of the Gulf Cartel, which is the most prolific, then I’ll tell you this. They generally charge somewhere between five and ten thousand a head. . . . And they’ll say: Here’s the deal. If you wanna go there and you wanna request asylum, we’ll let you do it for five grand. But if you wanna go there and you want us to sneak you in and really get you to Houston or Dallas or Tucson or Phoenix, then we’re gonna, it’s going to cost you even more, maybe twelve to fifteen thousand. So these groups are really making money. . . . And it’s a fact that last year, there was eleven to twelve hundred people per day apprehended. And remember, we only apprehend half of ’em, right? Approximately. Eleven to twelve hundred people per day apprehended, crossing our southern border. Per day.15 Now you think about the amount of money that is to those criminal groups—not only the amount of money that it’s going to cost you in the long term to educate those people and provide health care. . . !

15 Meanwhile, Rachel Wilson remarked: “One thing that really bothers Trump supporters is how many undocumented people there are in the United States. But that’s the direct result of the military buildup on the border. Once crossing the border became so difficult, people just stayed. That is the direct result of having extreme border barriers. So if you make it harder to cross, people will stay.”

The Trumpeters weren’t making it all up. The Mexican policeman who had covered his face, and now sat so agreeably beside me on the bench as we watched the asylum seekers and lucky card-holding border crossers go by, definitely believed in the mafias. When I asked how many migrants he saw at this port of entry, he answered: “I could say right now there’s more people. For the situation in Mexico, the violence, a lot of it in Guerrero . . . ” His voice trailed off.

“How many migrants cross per day in this sector?”16

16 I failed to ask him how far his sector went. CBP data tells us the following: there were a total of 4,911 border apprehensions in the Tucson sector in February 2019, when I visited. The following month there were 7,257.

“Maybe a hundred illegally.”

“And how many legal asylum ­seekers?”

“In our shift, maybe twenty-­six daily.”

He estimated the current list of asylum seekers in Nogales at maybe within one thousand. A young man whom I had interviewed here the previous day (he is one of two Nicaraguan Josés in this essay; the other you will meet at the Eloy Detention Center) was number 988. His initial entrance interview would come up in another three or four days. A migrant coordinator named Brenda, who worked in Nogales, explained to me that if he were rejected out of hand the Americans would send him back across the line; otherwise he would win the great fortune of getting his merits further considered, in which case, being a single male, he would sit (estimated Brenda) in detention for something like six months17—a fabulous method for converting him into an America lover.

17 Asked for corroboration, the Mexican policeman replied: “I really don’t have much to say about that because we don’t get information about that.”

The Mexican policeman must have been correct about Guerrero. At the next border crossing, which lay a ten-­minute taxi ride westward, Victoria, dark, beautiful, and number 1,036 on the asylum waiting list, stood in the chilly sidewalk queue for Father Sean’s soup kitchen. She hailed from Guerrero: “There’s lots of violence; I fled from fear. My daughter wants to study. . . . ”

Guests of Father Sean, Mexican side of Mariposa P.O.E.

Guests of Father Sean, Mexican side of Mariposa P.O.E.

“Where does the violence come from?”

“The mafia controls that sector, and they are killing people.”

They had threatened her neighbor “directly,” and her ten-­year-­old daughter could not even safely walk to school. “The mayor doesn’t stand up for the community.”

“Why do they do this?”

“Nobody knows why.”

Their journey thus far had taken two nights and days. Victoria had wrangled rides in cars and trucks.

“What do you hope and expect?”

“My compañera, the godmother of my daughter, lives across the border. I hope to get my daughter into school and treated for asthma.” So the Trumpeters were exactly right in their fulminations regarding “the amount of money that it’s going to cost you in the long term to educate those people and provide health care. . . !” Wicked Victoria!

Behind Victoria stood Mariella, whose migration thus far had taken four days of “hitchhiking in cars.” Her group consisted of two families. “Everybody was kind, thanks to God. We want to request asylum. My brother’s in Arizona.”

“What made you decide to leave Guerrero?”

“The violence,” she said patiently.

“Were you threatened directly?”

“Lots of people appear dead in the streets. Sometimes they’re shot and sometimes they’re hacked into pieces.”

“But why?”

“Nobody knows. It’s better not to ask.”

The policeman said that increasing numbers of the migrants were children. “It’s more about mafias; they’re trying to recruit people that look younger, and that’s because they last a lot longer. In my shift today, we received, I think, five or six from the first caravan. I received a kid underage who said he was in a caravan. So we passed him through.”

Well, didn’t that likewise prove the Trumpeters’ point? Darby enlightened us as follows: the cartels (who may or may not have been the mafias) might overwhelm a certain border sector with children, and while the poor Border Patrol agents were coping with those, in zipped a monster load of drugs! Oh, oh, oh, how diabolical those cartels were! And that Mexican policeman, hardened in sin, kept facilitating their evil projects: “I’ve gone to the spot where there’s some woman about nineteen who had nothing, who came with her kids, and she had no money. So I gave her ten dollars plus a hundred pesos that I had in my pocket; she had a one-­year-­old baby.”

vi: “so happy to be in safety”

Eloy Detention Center, Arizona

Eloy Detention Center, Arizona

To address the Trumpeters’ arguments I would now like to invite you through the three gates of ICE’s Eloy Detention Center, then past the security man and to his metal detector. My butchers of america cap needed to be locked up because red, white, and blue might, as the security man explained, incorporate gang colors. Having passed my scan, I stood behind his workstation waiting for the interpreter, who had to run back out to the parking lot to verify the rental car’s license plate number, so that I had full opportunity to admire the two charity-­purposed vending machines; one sold phone credits, and when I asked the first interviewee, Eulalia, which gift would best delight her, she chose that one, both of us being ignorant that international calls were prohibited. (A Harper’s Magazine fact-checker found out that they weren’t.) Since all these detainees were from elsewhere, the phone credit would avail her about as much as the security man’s hypothetical good wishes. (He was actually a convivial sort, who cracked jokes with incoming guards; and while I awaited the interpreter’s return, we even carried on a conversation about the weather, the faraway end of his shift, and the famous Indian ruins of Casa Grande; they were a quarter hour’s drive away, and he had never been there.) The other vending machine sold commissary credits; at least that was what I thought he said. But at the end of the two interviews, when they let us out of there, the interpreter successfully masking her angry grief, I was told that the only method of contributing to a detainee’s account was via that reliable old gouging service Western Union, so that was what Eulalia would get. Western Union took a smaller bite if one sent the money electronically than if one walked into their office, so I gave the interpreter a hundred-­dollar bill and she contributed a hundred of her own, then did something on the computer; Eulalia therefore would theoretically eventually win ninety dollars, although I wonder what she made of my apparent breach of promise to give her the wherewithal to telephone her home country. Well, why dwell on bad things, especially when they happened to other people? I myself had much to praise Providence about. For one thing, nobody searched my anus that day. (The U.S. government has done that only once in my life, back in my hitchhiking days, so I should have gotten over it, but for some reason I hold a grudge.) Better yet, not only did they let us in, they did (I reiterate) let us out! And so we were smoothly promoted from the security man’s domain into the shiny-­clean white room behind and to the right of it, complete with two mirror panes, a soda machine, a snack machine, and a regiment of molded foam chairs—seamless and crackless, you see, so that nobody could hide contraband in them. I also noted a line of restrooms and a small TV that was broadcasting an unwatched thriller.

A guard now asked which detainee I would like to see first. “The lady,” I said, for I have always been a ladies’ man.

So there we now were, in one of I don’t know how many windowless side rooms, ensconced in two of the chairs in that row on one side of the wooden partition. Right away they brought in Eulalia, who sat down in one of the chairs on the other side. There was no transparent wall between us, Eloy’s security flavor being officially “minimum.” Nor did any guard stand listening. For all I knew, the room wasn’t even bugged.

The interview arrangement procedure had been as follows: One could hardly just wander in, as I used to do in Mexico, and ask a guard whether any captives felt like talking. Oh, no! That would never be consonant with border security! Therefore, to keep you and me safe, one had first to inquire of an immigration lawyer whether any detained clients felt willing; if yes, one had to order up these persons by name and alien number. The third step was to be approved by ICE. Next, ICE required verification of the media outlet under whose auspices I was going to have this pleasure. (My editor at Harper’s vouched for us expeditiously.) The final step was to find the place: 1705 East Hanna Road in Eloy. So we drove to that town, but at the convenience store they didn’t know anything about it and seemed almost uncomfortable that I had asked in front of the customers; or maybe its existence depressed them since they were all Latinos. Finally, a lady in the back directed us to return south to the previous town, then drive east, at which point the detention center lay alone off a long, flat sandy stretch, being a long, pale rectangular block of slit-­windowed nastiness behind a fence less impressive than the border wall but hardly welcoming.

Now back to Eulalia: she was tiny, with bright black eyes and a long braid, and projected a flat affect in keeping with that ugly room in that hateful place. The interpreter, who was a linguist by profession, with special qualifications both academic and practical in Mesoamerican tongues, informed me that her Spanish was mostly excellent, although she could not conjugate certain verbs, her native language being a Mayan one called Kanjobal. She had been educated up to the third grade. Her home was the little pueblo of Santa Eulalia, near the large city of Huehuetenango.18 They had dressed her in orange.19

18 I presume that she was named after not the town but the saint, whose gruesome martyrdom figures in one of Federico García Lorca’s great poems.
19She informed me that some women in her cell wore khaki. “Orange is for the first crossing. Khaki is for more than one crossing or for false papers.” Rachel Wilson meanwhile stated: “Everyone has scrubs based on what level of threat. Highest is dark green; lowest is tan.”

   ICE addressed this question with its usual transparency: “ ‘Classification’ is a process of categorizing detainees as low, medium or high custody and housing them accordingly. Research has shown that discretionary decisions about custody classification are more objective and consistent when guided by a process that systematically uses verifiable and documented information, and scores those factors appropriately. In making classification decisions, facilities use the recommended custody classification generated by the ICE Field Office, or utilize the ICE Custody Classification Worksheet (or similar system) to systematically produce a classification score for each detainee.”

“What made you decide to leave Guatemala?” I asked.

“I left because there were some very, very bad men, and my mama said20 our father had left when I was little. So I had no protection. These guys kept trying to take me away with them, and when I refused, they threatened to kill me, so I ran away to a ranch. I didn’t know them; they were just crazy.”

20 Another sad detail. Eulalia could not simply state that her father had abandoned them; she must have never known him, since she needed to take her mother’s word for it.

“What did your mama say?”

“The last time they bothered me I was walking down the street with my mama. They said they would kill my mama—”

“And then?”

“So we both decided to leave. We decided that I would leave first, because I was in the worst danger, and causing danger to my mama. I left on June 25.21 Our plan was that I would find safety and then meet her, because she cannot read or write or use the telephone. . . . ”

21 I met her not quite eight months later, on February 13, 2019.

Thus my consolation for failing to buy her international phone privileges: her mother couldn’t have talked with her anyway!

“A neighbor lady,” said Eulalia, nodding her head and speaking softly and rapidly, “was to take Mama to some ranch, and I could call this neighbor lady.”

Map by Dolly Holmes

Map by Dolly Holmes

“Why didn’t your plan succeed?”

“I have a relative here in Arizona who could contact her. Mama’s at that ranch. . . . ”

And so I should have bought Eulalia phone privileges after all. I re­corded a few more details and potentially failed to do Eulalia the one kindness she requested.

“How did you cross into Mexico?” I asked.

“I had always heard of the United States, where there was safety. I met an old lady who was trying to get work. So I traveled with her on a bus, and when I woke up on the bus, the old lady was gone. . . . ”

“And this was in Mexico?”

“Yes. I don’t know how many days I was on the road in Mexico. When I woke up, I got off at the next stop and started walking north . . . ,” with that bright or actually desperate innocence that had impelled Samuel (“It was like, we’re going for it, and we just crossed”) and Antonia to “just keep going north and you’ll find the wall.” It is only now when I transcribe this that tears come to my eyes. What might have been the duration of her journey? In Father Sean’s migrant center in Nogales I met Martin from Guatemala; it took him twenty-­five days to reach the border, walking part way, hitchhiking, riding buses when he had to; at night he’d ask for shelter, “and some were really nice,” he said. Let’s suppose it was like that for Eulalia. There would have been unknowable cities, strange roads, and maybe more bad men, cold nights, and the curving half-­silhouetted tridents of saguaros rising from the brush like mutant phalli sprung erect from wiry pubic hair, and finally the border.

“Then suddenly I saw some policemen wearing the same coat as you”—my jacket was dark green—“and they grabbed me.”

“Was there any wall?”

“No. Only rocks like this”—she pointed to the wall—“that you could crawl through.”

By now I knew it would be fruitless to ask where she had crossed. How would she know? Had there been mountains, mafias, a river, or the hairy disks of prickly pears shining in the sun? You may remember that on our eastward safari along the wall’s Arizona side, a border patrolman had told the fixer that after merely two more magnificent dips this structure of metal plates and high dark poles and concertina wire finally gave way to the much less forbidding Normandy fence; it might have been here that Eulalia had crossed, or for that matter Antonia. How far did the wall go? I wish I knew. According to the Quail Creek Republicans, it most certainly did not go far enough:

audience question: Is there a specific place in Arizona that you have in mind to build the wall? Is there a specific place that you think needs it more than any other? ’Cause we have a huge unprotected border. A couple strands of barbed wire . . .

brian kolfage: The issue with Arizona is there’s very few private property landowners. A lot of land is federal or state, so we can’t touch it. What we’re doing is working with private property landowners. We have narrowed it down to a select few zones. We don’t wanna basically let—we can’t go public with the information exactly, because there are groups, different liberal groups, who want to attack it and wanna do everything to stop it, and we’re not ready to release that. But I can tell you that we have selected various areas in Arizona to build this wall!

Fortunately, their border protection had succeeded sufficiently to catch that criminal called Eulalia.

“What was the first thing these policemen said?” I asked her.

“They didn’t ask me anything at all—just name, date of birth, country. I had my Guatemalan I.D., and I gave it to them.”

“How old are you?”

“I will turn twenty-­four soon, on October 28.”

“After you were arrested, what occurred?”

“They put me in a white car for an hour. For a while they just left me there alone, sitting. Then they took me away with four other people.”

“Where did they take you?”

“To the cold cell. We were mothers, children, young and old, maybe ten of us. We couldn’t sleep.”

“Why is it cold?”

“I don’t know what the reasoning could be.”

For four days they kept Eulalia there. Then they took her “somewhere else, I don’t know where, then here.”

“How many people in your cell now?”

“They call them ‘tanks.’ Fifty people in each one, all women . . . ”

“How well do you get along?”

“Sometimes other women argue, but I am so happy to be in safety that I am happy.”

The Trumpeter Swans would have been disappointed to hear that! Even after the cold cell, with indefinite detention ahead of her, Eulalia considered herself better off! I guess they should have tightened the screws.

“How long do you think you’ll be here?”

“Well, there are groups fighting to get us our freedom, but it’s up to the judge or governor,22 who will decide how many years I have to stay here. I don’t have a lawyer, no money; my relative in the state can’t get any more money. . . . ”

22 This word suggests that her conception of the American legal system was informed by the Guatemalan or Mexican one.
American side of the wall, east of Morley P.O.E.

American side of the wall, east of Morley P.O.E.

Months or years, whatever it took to protect the border from trespassers like her! Send her back, let those men rape her and kill her mother. Why was that our American problem? But one utterance at that rally in Green Valley did make me wonder about consistency. Do you remember the Trumpeter Darby who had fumed about “the amount of money that it’s going to cost you in the long term to educate those people and provide health care”? That was of course what exercised the Trumpeters far more than how much the cartels hypothetically profited in some other country. That their argument was precarious as well as ungenerous may easily be seen. How does an illegal alien get work in the United States? He or she presents a false Social Security number. I have interviewed and photographed illegal farmworkers holding up their pay stubs. Their Social Security fees get deducted. They will never collect Social Security income in their old age. They are not robbing us but themselves. Surely this must go far to offset the cost of their education and health care. Now, what about the expense of incarcerating them? Eulalia had been cooling her heels in Eloy for something like eight months, with an unknown stretch ahead of her. I would love the Quail Creek Country Club to assess that cost.

vii: cameo about juan

Juan, near Mariposa P.O.E., Nogales, Mexico

Juan, near Mariposa P.O.E., Nogales, Mexico

My argument needs shoring up with another example, so let me make use (why not? everybody else did) of a former landscaper named Juan, who had been deported from Phoenix and was now situated in a bright, clean dirt lot across the street from Father Sean’s migrant center by the Mariposa Port of Entry. His face was brown and lean; his beard was going gray. Given how he had to live, he kept himself extremely clean. His eyes were clear, almost gentle, and he smiled at me even before I gave him money. A long line of stalled white trucks awaiting international inspection composed the horizon behind him. I inquired about his time in the United States, and he said: “Well, the life was fine; it was good, but sometimes one commits errors. The people I was working for didn’t want to pay me, so after two weeks they called la migra, and I was deported. I was staying at the boss’s house, and I told him I didn’t want to work anymore, so he called la migra. We were getting ready to get on the trucks to go to Dickinson, and I didn’t wanna go since I hadn’t been paid, so the police came first and they checked my papers, and then they called la migra. I worked really well; I worked hard. I tried to talk to a lawyer who ignored me. Said there was nothing they could do. The police called la migra and they took me away.”

Juan could not get over it (I might have felt the same), so he kept telling over and over again the wrong against him: “The first time when I crossed over to work, I arrived at a depot and they were saying, no, don’t go, don’t go.23 I was there with la migra and everyone else had gone away to Dickinson, and the boss said,24 ‘Oh, just stay here, and I will send my brother back with your money.’ When I went before a judge and told him about my wages being stolen, the judge said there was nothing he could do. I was put in prison for three years. In Fargo, North Dakota.”

23 The interpreter and I could not quite entirely understand this sentence, but I have left it for its poetic value.
24 Who was Mexican.

To recapitulate: Juan had worked for nothing. He (as my literary agent would say about her own efforts) added value to our economy, which returned him nothing. From a Trumpeter’s standpoint, what’s not to like? And then the Trumpeters’ supposed best friend, la migra, took over. And instead of booting him expeditiously out, they drilled the taxpayers for three ever-­loving years! Juan had become a very expensive migrant indeed.

“What did the prison look like?”

“It was okay. It was a GEO prison, a private company,25 a real big one. The first three months was in Fargo, then the rest was in Oklahoma, near the place where there was that disaster.”26

25 In fact, there is no GEO facility in North Dakota.
26 Timothy McVeigh’s masterwork, I presume.

“And what did you do any day?”

“We did the same thing all the time, just watched TV. There were eight of us. We got to go out one hour a day for exercise. That was all.”

“Was there violence in your cell?”

“I didn’t have problems. The people who were there for a few months were not violent. After three years they put me on a bus, with handcuffs.27 It took two days. There were only about two women on the bus; the rest were men.”

27 The ICE response to a fact-checking question about restraints may be of interest: “Restraints are used as a precaution against escape during transfer. The following restraint equipment is authorized: 1. handcuffs: stainless steel, 10 oz.; 2. leg irons: stainless steel and must meet the National Institute of Justice standard; 3. martin chain; 4. waist or belly chain: case-hardened chains with a minimum breaking strength of approximately 800 pounds; 5. handcuff cover: cases for the security of handcuffs used on high security detainees; 6. soft restraints: nylon/leather type with soft arm and leg cuffs containing soft belts with key locks; 7. plastic cuffs: disposable; and 8. any other ICE/ERO-approved restraint device.”

“What happened when someone had to go to the restroom?”

“They unhooked one [handcuff] and then hooked one to your belt.”

“And then?”

“They left me right at the line,28 and then they watched until I went across.”

28 The border.

“Where had you come from?”

“I was in Ciudad Obregón.”

“So what made you decide on Nogales?”

“It’s a nice warm climate, and I had no reason to go back.”

People with fortunes as fine as Juan’s generally get luckier and luckier. “I have had two months of work here,” he said. “I sleep here on the other side of the wall. I was on the highway digging out the little canals where the water runs down. They told me they were gonna pay me one rate, and at the end of the month they paid less, so I left. We were working seven days a week, sometimes at night, and it was all lies. They told me the work was from seven to three at three hundred pesos a day, but it was only one hundred. Sometimes I eat at that shelter, but they haven’t called me there today. Then I look around for day labor . . . ”

Remembering what so many taxi drivers had told me, I asked: “Is it dangerous here with the mafias?”

“If I don’t mess with them, they leave me alone.”

“What if you said, ‘I want a job with the mafia?’ ”

“Well, I don’t know. You don’t wanna get involved.”

His baseball cap bore the American flag and eagle, and his jacket memorialized san francisco. How could the brassiest Trumpeter bray against that?

He camped a few steps from where I’d found him, in a niche in the cinder-­block wall, on which someone had employed large capital letters to inscribe something about God. The front of his space was entirely open, and one of the side walls went as high as his shoulder. This was no fortified lair but a place for a strong, desperate, or well-­connected man. I saw two mattresses, with blankets on them; one bed was made and the other awry. He said the second mattress was in case anyone else needed a place to sleep. The floor was grimy black. In one corner I saw an empty plastic cup on its side, a disposable dish with a bit of food still in it, and a tied-­up plastic bag containing something unknown; in another, a scrap of rope lay upon a scorched place.

Since I was supposed to ask him about border security, I inquired: “How often do you see the pollos crossing?”

“Before, yes, but they don’t come through here anymore.” Hurrah for border security! On this subject Rachel Wilson remarked: “Actually the number of people seeking asylum at the port of entry has not increased. So this strategy appears to be a deliberate attempt to make us think the border is overwhelmed.”29

29 The Mexican policeman had in fact said that the number of would-­be border crossers had increased in his sector. But “a bipartisan group of 58 former senior national security officials” stated that “illegal border crossings are near forty-year lows.” Homeland Security statistics indicate that from 2006 to 2016, “undetected unlawful entries” from Mexico fell from approximately 851,000 to around 62,000 (Ellen Nakashima, Washington Post, February 25, 2019 [“Ex-officials claim ‘no factual basis’ for wall emergency”]). (These were evidently per-year figures.)

Remembering Antonia and the others, I asked: “How far would you have to walk to come to the end of the wall?”

“Oh, it’s pretty far. You have to take a car. I don’t know, because they’re building the wall . . . ”

viii: eulalia’s story (concluded)

So there was Juan, and here was Eulalia, gesturing, speaking stead­ily and flatly, clasping her hands against her heart, her dark braids flashing against the white walls when she turned her head.

“What do you hope for?” I asked her.

She named her judge and continued without apparent feeling: “When he saw me the first time, he denied me asylum and said I could appeal, so I appealed.”

“If you get asylum, what is your plan for your life?”

“If I get out, I’ll live with my relatives here and I’ll study English. We had no money in Guatemala, so Mama could send me to school only to third grade. I want to go to school very much.”

“Is there anything we can do for you?”

“I give you thanks for talking and listening to me and for your support.”

We rose and I shook her hand. She departed, and while waiting for the second detainee, José, I noticed that on the wooden partition someone had written jesus.

I wonder if Eulalia ever did get out of Eloy. Where would I like to imagine her? For those three-­odd days of typical sheltership she might have rested with Diane, that good-­hearted Methodist whose smile and neck-­looped name tag were what first met me when I began this story. About her flock Diane said: “These are the most loving, compassionate people I’ve worked with. And in the short time that we have our people, which is anywhere from three hours to a week, mostly about two days, we get to love them, and they show us a great deal of love.”

ix: kataleya’s story

Kataleya, from Guatemala

Kataleya, from Guatemala

And now as I commence to tell Kataleya’s story I want to honor another good person, named Genevieve.

Kataleya was a beautiful T-­girl with a dreamy half-­male voice who lived with five others near South Tucson, in the home of her sponsor, the quiet, artistic, horse-­loving Genevieve. (The interpreter and I both considered Genevieve to be in equal parts noble and modest. About her house she said: “On paper I own it; we all contribute and have house meetings.”) On the adobe wall outside had been posted a Spanish-­language version of that No More Deaths message: humanitarian aid is never a crime—drop the charges.

We sat around the kitchen table, with a calendar of Aztec lovers on the wall not far from three nested baskets, one of garlic, one of little potatoes, one of lemons and limes; then some shelves of pumpkins, squash, corn, and onions. Genevieve poured coffee and hoped we could stay for lunch. And Kataleya was out and free, maybe forever.

While I watched her fingers as she fitted them together, with her lovely black hair knotted on top of her head, Kataleya began: “I left my country because of delinquency. Ever since I was twelve years old, it became hard to leave the house because people would start giving me bad looks and saying things to me and starting to accost me physically. So then I had to go to Mexico and leave my country to protect my identity and my safety.”

“Did you take any hormones before you left Guatemala?”

“Yes, at fourteen years old I started taking them. When I got to Mexico, I started injecting hormones and going through a lengthier process.”

“Were you able to get them openly?”

“I always went to the pharmacy, and they always sold them to me.” The stuff was called Cuerpo Amarillo (“Yellow Body”).

“How old were you when you went to Mexico?”

“Twenty years.”

“Did you go by yourself?”


“What made you decide to go to Mexico and not to another country?”

“It was the closest country in which I felt I could be free.”

“Then what happened?”

“I was in a shelter. I suffered discrimination, sexual abuse, as also in my country, and so I came to the decision to go where I could be safe and study and also work, because people with my identity they don’t give work to.”

“How did you support yourself in Mexico?”

“At the shelter they gave us food.”

“How long were you there?”

“I got there January 17, 2017, and left in May.”

“Then what happened?”

“I met my sister Génesis, a transgender woman from Honduras. So we decided to come north, looking for liberty. We met an activist, a trans woman, and we decided to start our own caravan. It was the first transgender woman caravan of 2017: sixteen people.”

“Where did you meet the others?”

“We met some in some other shelters, and then we picked up some more, and then in Saltillo30 we picked up some more. And others came from Chihuahua, and some from Mexicali.31 It was in Nogales [Mexico] that we all got together, six gay men and ten transgender women, in the Kino shelter. That’s where we were after we turned ourselves in.”

30 Genevieve identified that place as “south of Nuevo León, smack in the middle of northern Mexico.”
31 Here I mentioned that I often saw transgender streetwalkers in Mexicali. She replied: “Unfortunately trans women often have to work in prostitution because there are no other jobs available to them.”

“So you met Father Sean?”


“What do you mean that you turned yourself in?”

“We turned ourselves in to Immigration to ask for asylum. It was a really hard process to go through. We had to say goodbye to the male members of our party. We had to get split up. We knew it would be a very long process before we could reach freedom.”

“Why did you have to split up?”

“Because of U.S. laws. They did something else with the men, but the transgender women had to go to a special facility. Cibola, New Mexico, is the only facility for transgender women. We said goodbye to the other people. They put us off to one side; they checked us from head to foot. We were just trying to turn ourselves in in a normal, orderly way. They took us and they chained our feet and our hands and our waists. They chained each one of us separately, and they took us into the refrigerator cells, as they call them, and there they started questioning us as to where we were from, what country we came from. They gave us those aluminum foil blankets, whatever they’re called, and then we waited three days, and then they took us to Florence. They didn’t give us food. Some of us—we were all chained up—some of us didn’t have sweatshirts or anything. So we were really cold, and they put us in really cold, cold cells, and we started yelling because we were cold, and they just made it colder.”32

32 Emended for clarity from “turned the air conditioning up higher.”

“How many in a cell?”

“The male members were still with us; they weren’t separated until after Florence. We were all together in the truck that took us to Florence.33 They wouldn’t let us go to the bathroom. They would watch us while we buttoned and unbuttoned our pants; they would make us pee standing up, not sitting down as we were used to. When we got to Florence they gave us food. There were other people in this detention center, and we asked to all be detained together, and they put us in a room including the gay men.” (“Florence is all male,” the interpreter reminded me.) “And then they took us all to Cibola, New Mexico; that’s where they separated us.”

33 The interpreter suspected that the events mentioned in the rest of this paragraph occurred slightly earlier in the ordeal.

Since it seemed relevant to this matter of forced standing, I asked: “Did most have the penis?”

Indirect answer, said the interpreter, who then translated: “On the truck ride there, we had to pee standing up because we were given no option, and then at Cibola they gave us uniforms and put us in a room and then we had no more contact with men.”

“What color was the uniform?”

“Usually it’s orange, but since it was our first time in the U.S. we were given blue ones. If you have already been to the U.S. and been deported once it’s orange, blue if you’re a first-­timer.”34

34 For a partially different categorization of uniform colors, see Eulalia’s story above.

When I asked what might be the purpose of the cold cell and other such needless subjections, she replied: “In my opinion, it was because of ignorance and racism against Central Americans. We turned ourselves in peacefully, in an orderly fashion, and they chained us up and treated us this way.”

“When exactly did they begin to chain you?”

“Right when we crossed the border from Nogales, they chained us up.”

(Genevieve added here that Kataleya and her compañeras all carried letters from doctors in Nogales stating that they were transgender women who had been abused and tortured in their home countries and therefore should not be subjected to inhumane treatment. “They just ignored them,” said Kataleya. “They always chained us up.”)

“When people had to move their bowels, did they unhook the chains?”

“No. We just helped each other. They didn’t unchain us.”

Hearing that, for a moment I ran out of questions.35

35 When I raised the matter with ICE, another spokeswoman wrote back: “Allegations of ICE detainees being physically chained to one another while in their designated living area without access to the restroom is [sic] factually incorrect. ICE detainees are able to move freely in their designated living spaces without physical restraints; they have full access to the restroom at their convenience.

   “ICE cannot research or provide individual comment on any allegations of medical mistreatment without the specific details, including the names and signed privacy-waiver forms of the current or former detainees who have made these allegations.

   “ICE is committed to ensuring that those in our custody reside in safe, secure and humane environments and under appropriate conditions of confinement.”

“So when we got to New Mexico,” Kataleya continued, “they took the chains off, and they took pictures of us and began to question us about where we were from, and then we got the uniforms.”

“What do you think was the purpose of the cold cells?”

“The majority of us figured out that it was because they wanted us to ask to be returned to our countries and not stay in the U.S. We had no other option but to endure it. We had no other option but to huddle up next to each other to get the little bit of warmth that we could.”

“If you had asked to be returned, would they have done so immediately?”

“They wait until they have enough people. If they almost have enough people to fill up an airplane it might be the next day. Otherwise it could take three days or something.”

“Did anyone ask to be returned?”

“One compañera did ask to be returned. She had oil in her breasts36 that were leaking. And they kept drawing blood from us; we didn’t know why. When we first got there they tested us for AIDS, and we thought that was very normal, but they kept drawing blood, a lot of blood, and we had no idea what it was for.”

36 Presumably from “basement” injections of silicone or the equivalent during a breast-­augmentation procedure.

“Do you have any guess as to why?”

Spreading her slender fingers, rubbing her wrists, Kataleya said: “Well, we don’t know why, but there was a very thin woman who was always the first to be taken away to have her blood drawn, and she got so very thin and white that you could see her veins standing out on her hands. It made us very depressed when we kept having blood drawn. I don’t know why they did it. We were getting very depressed. They did it every day. We were crying because we were so upset about it, and we would try to hide.37 They kept saying that they lost the results of the test for me, and that’s why they had to keep doing it. Every day they drew blood, and it was eight or nine of those vials.”

37 Nobody else alleged this. Eulalia, for her part, said: “They draw blood; there’s a doctor. I’ve been really well, so I don’t go to the doctor often. They’ve never drawn my blood.” José, her fellow Eloy inmate, asked once to see the doctor, at which time they did draw his blood, but never again.

This baffled me more than the business of perpetual chaining, which must have left the lavatories in a filthier state, or the cold cells, which required only tax-paid thermodynamic work. Wouldn’t the constant drawing of blood require a disproportionate effort to achieve its presumed sadistic effect?

Anyhow, ICE could not provide an explanation.

“They said they were doing it to check our hormone levels,” said Kataleya. “Once I got out, I saw a doctor here, and she told me there was no reason to check the blood that often. They did it every day for four months, the whole time we were in Cibola.”

American side of the wall, east of Morley P.O.E.

American side of the wall, east of Morley P.O.E.

The rest of her detention story was drearily unremarkable. Kataleya was spirited, or, as a guard might say, insubordinate: “The officials there treated me badly. One time I was walking down the hallway talking to my sister, not in a loud voice, and the official told me, ‘Shut up!’ I don’t understand English, so I said, I don’t know what you’re saying, and he told me, ‘Shut up, shut up!’ I said, You can’t shut my mouth up; it’s mine. So I shut up that time, but the next day I went to eat, but I wasn’t hungry, so I wrapped up my food in napkins and took it in the closet, and an official took it and threw it in the garbage and I didn’t know why. Ms. Galindo was the only one who was nice. She understood us because she had also crossed the border without documents. She gave us love, which we really needed. It was a really ugly thing, being detained. We were supposed to maintain silence, and they kept the lights on, so we didn’t know day from night. We got one hour outside for exercise. . . . There were times when I almost asked to be deported, and at one time a Mexican woman was put in our cell, and this woman would stand in a certain part of the cell and she would say, ‘Come over here, where the cameras can’t see,’ and Génesis would say, ‘Don’t.’ The woman would say, ‘No, come over here, or I’ll teach you respect.’ She meant to hit me. I had already won my case and she had lost. After this argument with the woman who was trying to get me to fight, they said, You have to go see the doctor, and she said, I’m not sick,’ and they said, You have to.’ And after I went to the doctor they put me in a little room, and then they left me alone for a long time, so I lay down, and then they put me in a hole for fifteen days as punishment for that argument with the Mexicana. The Mexicana was in there, too. It’s a little tiny solitary cell, totally enclosed, and they put your food under the door.”

“What happened to the Mexicana?”

“They put her in too.”

“Could you hear other people in other parts of the hole?”

“No. The only thing that happened was that officials would go by and peek in to see you were okay and then bring food and knock on the door and push it under your door. After that I went back to the cell but not with the Mexicana. They didn’t want us together anymore. They kept the Mexicana in the hole until I got out. She had said that she would get a marker pen and stab it into my ears when I was asleep, and two other women witnessed it and made a complaint, so that’s why they locked her up longer.”

“Why did she dislike you?”

“Because I talked too loud!” cried Kataleya with great good humor. “I do have a loud voice, and we were in a very enclosed space, so they could hear me all over! It sounded to the Mexicana like I was arguing or yelling when it was just my normal tone of voice.”

“How long did they keep you there?”

“It was either the sixteenth or the twenty-­sixth of August 2017. I don’t remember when we were released, because it’s better not to count the days.”

“Was it after Christmas?”

“Before Christmas. I came out on parole May 2018.”

“So it was something like nine months?”

“On January 17, 2017, I left my country. Then I was in Shelter No. 72 in Mexico City, and then we started the caravan, heading for Nogales. We got to Nogales in August 2017, and in that same month we asked for asylum. We didn’t get our freedom until 2018. I was the last one to be out of detention of the transgender women.”

“Why were you the last?”

“It depends on when your sponsor can meet all the requirements to accept you.”

“What happened on the last day?”

“So on the last day Ms. Galindo came and told me I would be free that day, and she told me to behave well when I got out and never bow my head before anybody, because everybody was equal and nobody was better than anybody else. And she told me to do in life what made me happy. So they put me at liberty and I left.”

“How did Genevieve become your sponsor?”

“I had another sponsor at first, but that person didn’t have anywhere for me to stay, so then Genevieve came . . . ”

“And did they put you in an ankle bracelet?”

“I think I didn’t get one because we had those letters saying we should not be abused. We left under humanitarian parole.” The slender necklace was trembling on her smooth brown throat.

She won her asylum after a year. In another year she might win her residency permit; three years later she could apply for citizenship. I asked what her protective document looked like, and she let me hold in my hands her laminated Department of Homeland Security document, with her very own nine-­digit admission number, then a two-­digit process number and that blue stamp:

Granted Indefinitely
Section 208
Immigration and Nationality Act
OCT 02 2018

above her male birth name, her date of birth (she was twenty-­two), and her native country. On the card’s other side was a color identification photo and


38 Presumably, “Port of Entry: Tucson.”

Since I wished to photograph her, she went to put on makeup. (Genevieve said: “It’s a wonder how quickly she transforms!”) She had always been beautiful; now she looked like a model. I learned that Vogue had recently done a shoot of her.

“What do you think of the U.S.?” I asked, and she answered as I wished that all the migrants in this story could have: “I have liberty to work and study and nobody insults me.”

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was born in California in 1959. He has written many books and articles, some of which focus on the border.

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