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Last summer, a friend invited me to step out into the patio during a dinner party in a tony neighborhood. The dinner was at one of those places that predate gated communities, a throwback to kinder, gentler, genteel days. It was a classical setup to find out about some indiscretion, a rumor, preferably a confession, the stuff behind the headlines. Indeed it was.
My friend Anabelle wanted to share some details about what a young European woman she met at her yoga class had told her. The gracious European was the wife of an international banker, and she had a run-in with immigration authorities, something about her documentation.
Her point in telling me this is that there was something undignified about how the young wife felt about the U.S. treatment after arriving from Spain. Other people were talking who felt the same way. What’s up? Anabelle wanted to know.
Now, it seems, the hoity-toity are feeling the squeeze that many working-class people endure. They are joining the ranks of the suspicious class. Fewer of us who cross borders are exempt from the suspicions presumed reserved for the less connected.
This fits in with what an Australian friend revealed about his experience on re-entering the country after a business meeting abroad. Evidently Malcolm (not his real name) fits the ID of a homologue and underwent a body search and interrogation before the authorities decided they had the wrong guy. They released him after four hours without so much as an apology. The indignity of it all, he said to me.
A real-estate agent at a reception held at the Junior League tells me her son was out one night and a patrolman stopped him and his friends. The officer said he wanted to see his “citizenship papers.” Liz tells me her son answered back, “And I want to see your Homeland Security badge.”
The cop let him go after that crack. Evidently a real “illegal” would cower. But the point is made when your appearance puts you in the suspicious class, when the presumed protections that go with education, bearing or class simply just go away. Welcome to the suspicious class.
Eventually, when too many people get smart-alecky like that, sooner or later an incident is going to occur.
Frankly, most of us think we will never fall under the gaze and become part of the suspicious class. All those others didn’t, either. But it happened. Still, that’s not the main point. Elite U.S. citizens are also becoming part of the suspicious class. That’s what happened to Nena.
Her story is not unlike what happens to many others.
Nena and husband Vicente pondered a dream vacation to Europe and they applied for passports at the post office. They know that even routine trips across the border into Mexico now require a passport. Getting one seemed like a good, practical idea.
But after applying, Nena received a notice saying she needed to answer a questionnaire. All this was quite confusing because she was born in Texas in the 1950s. She had a certified birth certificate.
Her parents, because of economic necessity, raised the children in Mexico. This is something retirees living in Mexico understand all too well. You go to the nearby places where living is affordable. With six children, this was an understandable family solution in those times.
But she said too much in the questionnaire, and the information she volunteered evidently was used against her. Some brothers and sisters are Mexican and others U.S. nationals.
You can just imagine the bureaucrat, in charge of making the decision, looking at the document that came in the mail, already once before rejected. His job is to think every document is false, every life story full of holes, seeking the needle in the haystack.
And so Nena and all the well-meaning others fall into the dragnet that now makes them part of a suspicious class.
For Nena, an upstanding citizen with proof where she was born, even after her congressman’s intervention and the passing of a year, still does not have a passport because, it seems, her life story isn’t conventional enough.
(Jose de la Isla, author of “The Rise of Hispanic Political Power,” writes a weekly commentary for Hispanic Link News Service. E-mail joseisla3(at)yahoo.com)