“Tell me the truth! Are you legal or illegal!” the immigration agent shouted in Gela’s face. Actually, Gela quite clearly had permission to be in Mexico, as she’d just entered a few days before. The agent didn’t realise that he was holding my passport. After scrambling the papers around in a confused manner, he turned his attention to me.
“Come on – come with me! People are in a hurry to get where they’re going!”
-Hang on, I’m going to call the embassy.-
“No, no, you’re coming with us!”
Gela said she would come too, and they refused. The people around us started to protest, noting how ridiculous the whole thing was, how they’d prevented me from calling the embassy and prevented Gela from coming along.
They let me collect my stowed luggage, Gela gave me a hug and told me if I control my emotions, I can control my reality. I assured her everything would be okay, and we got on a 15 seater van with mesh on almost all the windows.
-How are we all?- I said to the 5 Salvadorians in the back, as I put my luggage on the front seat.
“Not so good,” the man responded.
Half an hour down the road, the van pulled into a truck stop so the agents could get some coffee. They asked the Salvadorian woman if her young child had eaten so they could get him something.
A minute after walking away, the agent came back and locked the door. Whoops.
While they were inside, I reached over to the front seat and took my phone out. I posted on Facebook saying I’d been detained by immigration and was being taken to Mexico City. I also took out my travel towel and gave it to the child next to me so she could stay warm.
After a nice relaxing meal, the agents returned, and gave the young boy a piece of pan dulce. They asked me for my passport in Spanish, and I feigned ignorance.
“What’s up with this fucking dickhead?” one of them said.
I had to ask myself if I really wanted to make enemies of the people currently controlling my fate. I took out my passport and handed it to them.
We got to the immigration centre in Iztapalapa and we were waiting for authorisation to enter. An agent from the centre came out to watch us.
“Where are you from?”
“Hm… What did they pick you up for?”
“How long have you been in Mexico?”
-I’d prefer to speak to the embassy before I answer any questions.-
He said fair enough, then he started making conversation talking about kangaroos and the Sydney 2000 Olympics, and asking if Australia was a dangerous place, if there was any threat of terrorism. Later I realised, by making conversation, I’d unwittingly responded to three key questions about seeking refugee status in Mexico. Oops.
We got inside and they catalogued my things. As I was unlinking my tripod case from my backpack, I started whistling “Cielito Lindo” or something similar. One of the agents stood over me and said “Are you high? Are you on marijuana? Do you have marijuana with you?” I laughed and told him no. For some reason having someone still be cheerful while being detained by immigration was disturbing to them – perhaps just because it was unusual, or perhaps because it communicated a subtle, but clear, message of rebellion: You might control my physical presence, but you will not control my soul.
To be continued…