I Spent 36 Hours in a Holding Cell on the US-Mexico Border

SAN YSIDRO, CA - OCTOBER 03:  U.S. Border Patrol agent Jerry Conlin stands on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border on
SAN YSIDRO, CA - OCTOBER 03: U.S. Border Patrol agent Jerry Conlin stands on the American side of the U.S.-Mexico border on October 3, 2013 at the San Ysidro port of enty into Mexico, California. While hundreds of thousands of government workers were furloughed due to the federal shutdown, thousands of Border Patrol agents, air-traffic controllers, prison guards and other federal employees deemed 'essential' remain on duty, although their pay may be delayed. (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

It was January 30, 2013, a cool, overcast winter day in Southern California. The plan was to drive in to Mexico, turn around, file some visa paperwork at the border, get my visa and continue on with my life as an attorney in Los Angeles. As a Canadian citizen, I could only work in America with a work visa, and mine was set to expire on February 1, so this trip was necessary to keep my immigration status legal.

Once I got in to Mexico, the line of cars to get back in to California was five hours long. Once I got to the immigration area and parked my car, I walked into a brick building, which housed a large gray room with a white counter. Behind the counter were two agents, a man and a woman, both in their late 20s.

The male guard called me up to take my case. The interview went really well at first. He asked where I was working, and what I was doing. I answered him casually, in a relaxed manner. All of the sudden, the female guard who had been sitting quietly got up from her chair and walked over to the counter. We had a short discussion about my employment situation, and she told me to sit down.

I returned to my seat in the waiting area. She walked back to her computer and sat down typing. In an instant, the woman's face changed. She looked over at me.

"I think we're going to have a problem here," she stated.

She began interrogating me about my employment situation and argued with me about my job. After the argument, I sat waiting for almost an hour.

All of a sudden she stood up from her chair and gave a nod to her male co-worker behind the counter. She looked over at me.

"Please stand up sir," she said loudly.

The two guards began to walk up to me. The woman pulled out a set of hand cuffs. My jaw dropped.

"Please face the other way. You're not under arrest, but we are handcuffing you for security purposes," she stated.

The guard put my hands in the cuffs behind my back. The two guards grabbed me and began walking me to another building.

In the other building, the female guard then proceeded to search me. She asked me to empty my pockets and remove my belt. I took out my phone, wallet and keys and gave them to her. She then asked me to take off my shoes. I gave them to her and she removed the shoe laces. She put all of my belongings into a plastic bag, including the laces, phone and watch.

She walked me over to a set of seats, turned around and walked back out the door with her colleague, both never to be seen again.

About 20 minutes later, another guard walked in.

"Come this way," he continued. My thought was that we were being called in to speak to an immigration officer.

We suddenly stopped in the middle of the hallway. The guard turned to the right, where there was a pile of brown cloth blankets sitting on a ledge.

"Here, take this."

The guard grabbed a blanket from the top of the pile and threw it at me. I looked down at the blanket, wondering why I would need one.

The guard then turned to the left side of the hallway, grabbed a key from the holster in his belt and began opening a door. I looked inside, astonished by what was in front of me. It was a jail cell, filled with people.

As I looked in to the cell, the terror immediately began to flow through my body. I walked into the cell and turned around to look at the officer.

"I'll get you a floor mat when one becomes available. We're all out right now," he stated.

He then proceeded to shut the door and lock the cell. As I stepped in to the cell, I slowly turned my head to look at my surroundings. My eyes wandered to my right passed the door. A pair of wide open deep brown eyes staring at me sent me into a state of shock. An olive skinned man of European descent was staring ahead with an angry gaze on his face anxiously vibrating his right leg up and down.

The room was packed with sleeping bodies lying on the floor. About 12 men lay on every square inch of this tiny holding cell. Each was sleeping on a tiny floor mat, similar to a Yoga mat, but of much poorer quality. Each had a cloth blanket on top of him like the one I had received.

The floor felt like solid concrete with no softness or give. The room was long and narrow, angling to a point at the end. The ceilings were about 12 feet high. The room was lit by bright fluorescent lights, and there was nothing on the white walls. There was no clock to keep time and no television. There was no radio playing or books to read. The room smelled of human waste and body odor. The sounds of two men snoring overwhelmed the buzzing from the fluorescent lights and ventilation system.

There was no light from the outside to indicate what time it was. Opposite from the door leading in to the cell was a nook, which housed two steel toilets, similar to those on an airplane, but with a built in seat. Both toilets were out in the open, only separated from the room by a body length steel divider.

My mind began to imagine what happened in prison dramas. Was I going to be sexually assaulted or get into a fight? Who were my roommates? Were they Mexican drug smugglers with gang connections? I lay down on a steel bench and covered myself with the blanket.

Suddenly, one of the sleeping men lying below the bench pushed my blanket away.

...Continued: Read Dan's account in its entirety on his website: danrevich.com