Guest Commentary

A word to the wise: Don't carry detergent with you on trips to Nogales

After a normal Sunday of shopping in Nogales with my friend Cynthia, from Oregon, we drove north on Interstate 19 toward Tucson. En route, I asked Cynthia if she would like to go back to Tucson by way of Arivaca, Route 286, and Three Points. Cynthia said she was up for the detour, so we left I-19 at Amado and traveled west. I wanted to show her the landscape, as well as the area where, as a member of Samaritans, I often travel in search of undocumented workers in distress.

As a member of Samaritans, I have often snooped around these roadsides looking for signs of migrant travel. When we encounter them, or anyone who seems to be in distress, we offer water, snacks, first aid or sometimes just a pair of clean socks.

Now in our third year, we Samaritans have maintained a cordial relationship with the Border Patrol. They have helped us fix flats. We have given them water. We have some different opinions toward the migrants, but our two groups have maintained a polite civility. So I was rather surprised to be pulled over by a less-than-civil agent just east of Three Points.

Before the agent came to my car window, I thought I had been pulled over by the police. I reached for my bag to have my driver's license and insurance card ready, and panicked slightly as I realized I didn't have my proof of insurance with me.

When I recognized the man as a Border Patrol agent, I was relieved. I figured he probably wouldn't care that I didn't have my insurance card with me, or that I didn't quite stop at that last stop sign.

"What's your citizenship?" asked the agent.

"United States," I said.

"Where are you coming from?"


"Nogales?" His eyes narrowed.

"And this is my friend, Cynthia. She's here visiting."

I tried to explain that we were here to look at the mountains, the desert ...

"Step out side of the car," said the agent, and told me to open my trunk.

Inside my trunk was a box of Tide detergent. The agent turned to me, looked me in the eye and asked me if there was anything in my trunk that I might not want him to find.

Returning the eye, I said I was certain there was nothing in my trunk.

He became preoccupied with the box of Tide. Where did I buy it, he wanted to know, and how much did I pay for it? (Oh no! Of all the Border Patrol agents out here, I end up with a Fab man!)

"You want my box of Tide?" I asked, incredulous.

When a dog appeared on the scene to nose out my car, I realized he had me scoped out as a drug smuggler. I'm that slow.

A beautiful German shepherd sniffed the far reaches of my car while I looked over the additional agents and the flashing lights of the Border Patrol vehicles that had collected around this encounter. I guess they were standing by for a Big Find. I stood in utter confidence that these guys were making complete fools of themselves and their agency by searching me. I'm a do-gooder church lady, for God's sake.

Rin Tin Tin finally finished a very thorough search and was relegated back to the Border Patrol car.

Officers continued to stand by. The agent who made the initial contact with me said that the box of Tide made him very suspicious.

"I see a box of Tide and no dirty clothes," he said.

"This is where I keep my Tide," I said. "I take my clothes to a Laundromat."

He wasn't listening.

"You went to Nogales, you had a box of Tide. ..."

I wish I had asked him a few questions.

Why did he pull me over in the first place? He didn't know I went to Nogales and had a box of Tide in my trunk until after he stopped me.

I have no police record, unless all those tickets are finally catching up with me: I was caught not once, but twice, riding my bicycle through a red light. (I have also ridden my bike though a few railroad crossings when the gates were down, but so far, no one has caught me.)

Is this where the Patriot Act has brought us?

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