The incident narrated here happened quite a time ago, even before I started this blog here, but I really want to tell about my “frontier experience”.
On our honeymoon in September 2009 Mary and I were in West Texas, in Big Bend Country. There, close to the border with Mexico, everything possible is being done to keep illegal immigrants out, understandably. And thus there is a checkpoint by the US Border Patrol on every single road that leads from a (possible) border crossing into interior of the United States. Those checkpoints – btw – are set up only on the side of the road that leads into the US. Going out towards the border you don’t have to stop, but on the way in every single vehicle has to – 24/7.
Well, we had already passed through one of those on our way to Fort Davis, just after Del Rio, and everything there went smoothly: I presented my passport, answered a few questions, and that was it. Mary by the way, after she had said she was an American, didn’t need to do anything – not even show proof of her indentity! That’s quite something, isn’t it? Which person, trying to get into the US illegally, would not at first maintain they were a US citizen, and hope to get away with that.
Well, and then, on another day, when we wanted to visit Big Bend National Park [which extends to the border to Mexico, on the banks of the Rio Grande], I forgot my passport at our B&B, the Veranda Inn in Fort Davis. When we saw the checkpoint in the distance – we had been travelling for quite some time already – I immediately realized my mistake. But on the one hand, we did not want to drive back for an hour, and on the other hand, we didn’t want to appear suspicious by turning around and driving off again in plain sight of the officers at the check point. Had we been watched, they would certainly have followed and stopped us. So we decided to rely on the fact that I had my German driver’s license with me[which is indeed accepted here in the US as an official photo ID] and that I could thus identify myself.
And then came what had to come, on the return trip. We were, of course – as we had expected – stopped, and I told the officer that I had forgotten my passport in the B&B and presented my driver’s license. It was initially accepted, and the officer took it to the office to check the databases, whether I was in the United States legally. But in this high-tech country something must have gone awry, because they could not find me. At least they could not find my most recent entry, which had been in April. The control was in September, a full 5 months after my arrival, and even then I was not yet “the system”. [No wonder they have their problems here with illegal immigrants and terrorists.] What they could find, though, was my previous entries into the US, the last one in December 2008. But that was, at the time of the control, more than 6 months past, and therefore I would have been in the country illegally. [With my Visitor’s Visa which I had at that time – the application for my Green Card had just been filed but not yet approved – I was allowed to stay for 6 months maximum only.] I was then politely asked to come into the office, for fingerprinting and photo-ID, so they could check their database for both. The procedure took quite some time, because the officers were somewhat unfamiliar with the technology. But even with my fingerprints and my digital picture they could not find me in the system. They then asked me where I had entered the US most recently. That was Houston, I told them. So they called customs or immigration or whoever in Houston and I was actually known to someone there. Or rather, Houston had a record of me entering the US on April 24, 2009. Which in turn meant they finally had their proof that I was in the country legally. And after a stern warning to always carry my passport with me in future I was let go.
The whole procedure had taken about an hour and Mary, who had been sitting outside in the car, had become quite nervous, not knowing if but fearing that they had arrested me, or might even abuse me. But the officials were utterly polite and extremely friendly. Mary, of course, had no means of knowing that, and had been afraid to even ask what was going on. She had been thinking about who she might call for help, her cousin Jo Ann, who is with the police in Denver, or our friend Stella here in Karnes City, who is a judge. Well, fortunately that was not necessary.
But now I have my green card and can prove that I’m legally in the country. Nevertheless, I will – especially when it comes to visiting border areas – always carry my passport in addition to my Green Card