Lately, every time I commute to work I have to slow down for an immigrant check. And I don’t get it. There’s a sign, “Stop for US officers,” and there used to be this offensive “Caution” sign, too, because apparently a lot of immigrant smugglers let people out near this spot, a good forty miles from the international border, in the middle of a military base, next to a nuclear power plant – as if that makes any sense.
There’s only one highway through here, I guess that’s why it’s an immigrant inspection point. It’s a wide, five-lanes-in-each-direction highway, and the immigrants often came from rural places where they’d never seen such traffic. Apparently, people used to get killed here, regularly. So the CA highway commission thought it was helping by putting up these offensive signs, weirdly communicating “Mexican Crossing” just because it’s a shorter man, and a woman in a skirt, and a family that looks desperate. (One of my colleagues at Cal State Fullerton actually designed the sign.) It angered a lot of people, and even inspired some decent spoofs. I don’t think it protected anyone.
Eventually, they built a fence in the middle of the highway, and I’ve never seen anyone crossing, even though I drive it twice a week.
What I do see is the immigrant inspection, regularly. And here’s what I don’t get: what are the officers looking for? They work at random hours, but lately it’s been always during my morning commute. Traffic slows to 5 mph. A young guy, trying to look tough, wearing army-like fatigues and CHiP-like sunglasses, stands in the middle of the lane, peering at each driver & waving us through. What are they looking for? Okay, I know they’re looking for dark-skinned people crowded into older cars, but how is this legal? I thought they’re not supposed to judge on race or class? They always wave me through: I’m pale-skinned, business-suited, and driving a fairly new Prius. And I’m always furious. Not just because it adds fifteen minutes to my commute, but mostly because it seems so pointless, and so bigoted, and so very unAmerican.