“When did you arrive in the centre?”
-I’m not sure,- I said. -Monday? What day is it?-
It was only the second day and I had already lost count. I wondered how time could seem to pass so slowly considering everything was so boring. My friend Aaron always says how time passes differently in Mexico. He has a few wild ideas about ancient pyramids creating vortices, affecting timespace. This place was definitely a trap. There was too much time here.
-Where are you from?-
“I’m from Pakistan. But in a manner of speaking, I am from here. I’m a permanent resident.”
-What? Then how are you here?-
“Good question. Here, have a look.” He showed me his ID card. I was bewildered. “They picked me up when I came into Mexico City airport. They’d put a red mark against my name saying that I wanted to go to the United States. I don’t want to go to the US. I’ve lived here for three years. I like it here… But that doesn’t stop them.”
He wasn’t the only one I met in that situation. One PR, also Pakistani, had been in Mexico for 14 years, and here he was. A PR from Cali, Colombia, had a Mexican wife and child. They kept him for 110 days.
Since I’ve got out and talked about this, people have told me many times I should have had my papers. Some mention it as a practicality, others mention it to judge me and say that the agents of the state are not culpable. But do the papers really matter? In a lot of cases, they help… but they are no guarantee. There’s something not right when they can arrest you first, without evidence of wrongdoing, without charge, and after they’ve disrupted your life for days, weeks, or months, then they will consider the evidence. Is that justice?
Daniel is a Mexican American, literally a Mexican citizen with a naturalised Mexican birth certficate. He came into Mexico on a greyhound, and the bus never stopped at the border. It was only when he was heading north again that immigration decided to have a peek. While I was signing some documents, I said to one of the legal clerks -See this name: Daniel. Nationality: Mexican American. This is madness. You are detaining Mexicans.-
“Yes, they need to confirm his documents before they can let him go.”
I wish I’d pushed her further and asked -How long do you think it will be before you see your own cousin or nephew in this place, arrested, dragged from his job and family?- The system is there. Even if a guy is carrying his ID, what’s to stop the immigration agents from throwing it away and claiming he was undocumented? If they decide they don’t like someone, or if they get an order from above, what’s to stop them ruining a life for the sake of some papers? He can wait 90 days for his release while his employer finds a replacement and his landlord evicts him.
Maybe these are extreme cases, maybe they’re not likely. But the precedents are there:
- Detain a person because he’s not carrying papers.
- Detain a person even when he does have papers.
What other precedents would you need to target almost anybody within your borders – to silence your political enemies?
I asked the consulate rep if she could get me a pen. She asked the clerks and found that they were banned. One more precious freedom out of reach. But that night I went into the next dorm to teach Maan Spanish.
“Hola, ¿como estás? Me llamo Maan. Quiero un licuado con plátano y fresa.”
Somehow, the Indians had acquired a pen – actually a few pens. “Do you want it, Kurt?” said Maan. “You can have it.”
I thanked him. “This is freedom,” I thought, as I accepted the biro. This humble device could poke a keyhole into the world, into other worlds, allowing my mind to explore. As long as I had it, I could not be bound. The next day, I started writing, in tiny script no taller than a few millimetres, written on the backs of documents from the embassy. In such a place, a liberty like that can’t be taken for granted. To exercise my gratitude, I must extend it as far as possible. My dreams and my thoughts were my own, and now, so were my words.
To be continued…