Texas's 'Show Me Your Papers' Law: When Wolves Decide What’s Best For the Lambs

Hispanics make up 40 percent of the Texas population. These elected officials won, because we didn’t vote.

Texas passed a damaging “show me your papers” law that was crafted, cheered on and signed by Republican legislators who will not personally suffer from its racist provisions.

Senator Charles Perry, SB-4’s author, has probably never been detained and questioned by a United States Border Patrol agent. If Greg Abbott is at a Border Patrol checkpoint for an hour, he’s likely there for a meeting or a photo-op and not because he has been pulled to secondary inspection.

These men don’t need to worry about their daughters or sons being racially profiled or arrested and deported for running a red light. It’s a luxury millions of mothers and fathers in Texas, including mine, have never had.

Growing up in a border town meant I was used to identifying myself and my immigration status to officers at international bridges and check points. So one afternoon when I saw the red and blue lights flash behind me, I knew I had better be prepared to declare my American citizenship. I pulled over to the side of the desolate highway and kept my eyes on the car door mirror, which now reflected a man in the forest-green uniform walking towards me, slick shades protecting his eyes from the glaring sun.

I was, and continue to be, a law-abiding citizen who at the time happened to work for the United States Congress. None of that mattered.

I took my own shades off to fully identify myself to the Border Patrol agent, one of several who had pulled me over that afternoon on Texas Highway 83. I was, and continue to be, a law-abiding citizen who at the time happened to work for the United States Congress. None of that mattered because the agents only saw a Hispanic-looking woman driving alone, and that was enough reason to detain me.

On that day, I was driving home after attending a ceremony honoring Zapata County’s veterans, and so far, it had been a lovely weekend afternoon of fluttering flags and friendly faces. All that changed when the Border Patrol agent to ask to see the inside of my trunk, peering inside my car until I told him, “You can look.” I was afraid that if I showed a hint of resistance, even within my rights, the situation would escalate.

With those words, I gave permission for this law enforcement agent to search my car, my personal space, to look through every nook and cranny he deemed necessary to prove my culpability. He must have rummaged through a Diet Coke bottle, some of my favorite books and several pairs of high-heeled shoes I kept on hand for events and work. He may have brushed off some of my cat’s hair from unwanted trips to the vet. And when he moved the visors down, he probably touched the silver clip of the Sagrado Corazon de Jesus that my mother placed on all of her daughters’ cars. She knows I’m not a believer, yet she trusts that the Son of God will keep her youngest girl safe on the road.

I felt helpless and humiliated. All I could do was stand next to the other three or four Border Patrol agents, watching as he touched my belongings, my things. Throughout the entire detainment, which lasted about 20 minutes, I asked the Border Patrol agents only one question, “Why did I get pulled over?”

One of the agents smirked and refused to look at me, but none answered my question.

They didn’t find anything in my car. I had done nothing wrong. After they released me, I drove the remaining 20 miles or so home with my hands trembling on the steering wheel.

A friend later told me it was normal for Border Patrol to pull over young Hispanic women traveling alone, because they fit the profile of “mules” used by drug traffickers. I didn’t ask any more questions after that. What was the point?

At the time, I tried to peg this ugly experience as a norm for border residents, that it was for my own security, that they were just doing their job, even if my father’s lower lip quivered in anger when I recounted the incident. I told myself that it was anything else except a humiliation and a violation of my civil rights. Even after the second time it happened, I tried to dismiss as a normal occurrence. I knew I wasn’t alone, and that, like me, hundreds or even thousands of Hispanics who live on the U.S.-Mexico border zone had similar experiences, many of them even worse than mine.

These incidents are racial profiling and a violation of civil rights, and it’s time to call them what they are.

These incidents are racial profiling and a violation of civil rights, and it’s time to call them what they are.

Now that Texas is looking down the barrel of SB-4, millions of Texans will be introduced to this “normal” that those of us border natives tried to shrug off as part of our daily lives.

These Texans, immigrants and U.S.-born alike, who, like me, fit “the profile” will be living in a police state with borders drawn by each provision written in SB-4.

It’s tragic and upsetting, but it should also serve as a wake-up call to Texas’ Hispanic community and to our allies who oppose this law, including thousands of police departments across the state.

We cannot keep staying home on Election Day. We can’t just show up to the polls during presidential elections. We can’t say voting doesn’t affect us. Hispanics make up 40 percent of the Texas population, and an anti-Hispanic law was just approved by legislators who do not represent our community’s safety and best interests. These elected officials won, because we didn’t vote.

The wolves are deciding what’s best for the lambs, and we cannot sit back and watch this happen. It is our responsibility to be informed and participate in the democracy meant to represent us. Texas is home to millions of law-abiding Hispanics and immigrants and communities of color who contribute to its economic and cultural landscape.

The governor and legislators must answer for the damage this law will have on these communities and on the safety of the entire state. Our elected officials are obligated to respect and advance our civil liberties, not trample on them. We have the power to hold these officials accountable when they fail to protect us, now is the time to show it by voting them out and replacing them with those who will.