Life and Perils of an Aspiring Journalist on the Border

2

EL PASO — As a journalism student, I don’t think I’ve ever been so humiliated as I was the other day as I was taking some video and a few photos of vehicles and people crossing over the International Bridge of the United States.

In the end of October (2009), I was on the verge of completing a story for a news editing class as an assignment. In order to turn it in I needed about two minutes worth of footage mainly of the International Bridge, and to think about it, the article that I was writing had nothing to do with terrorism, Border Patrol, or even drug cartels. The story I was covering was simply about students who cross the bridge every morning to attend the University of Texas at El Paso.

Anyhow, back to the morning as I like to call it “the attack accompanied with humiliation”, I walked up to where people in the US pay a few cents to walk over the bridge to Mexico. I stood straight up to the blue fence and pressed record on my Flip camera and started recording the people paying twenty-five cents to cross, I also zoomed in people half way over the bridge, and vehicles driving over the bridge.

Just as I felt I had all the perfect footage and was ready to head to class, I heard, “Hey you! Get back here with that camera! If you don’t stop right there we will come after you!” I slightly turned around, and literally three customs agents tackled me to the floor as they rudely took my camera right out of hands.

“How do you erase those pictures, if you don’t erase them we will take you in!” said one of the customs as all three of them surrounded me. My heart was jumping out of my chest as I got screamed at, at one point I felt I was going to be taken it for the incident. People who were passing by were giggling and saying, “Get the terrorist, get the terrorist”! I nervously deleted the footage.

Border bridge at downtown El Paso (Cynthia Carol Almodovar/Borderzine.com)

Border bridge at downtown El Paso (Cynthia Carol Almodovar/Borderzine.com)

Back in March of 2009, Journalist Laura Ling and Euna Lee were detained for illegally entering North Korea and attempting to film refugees. Families of the two journalists released statements on how the two women felt and were treated while being detained. As reported the women were not treated well, when the whole time these two women were doing their job.

To be honest, I literally felt like Laura Ling and Euna Lee, getting “attacked” by border customs like both journalists and I were taking footage. The only difference between both incidents is that the two women actually were detained while I was just threatened (to be taken in). While the incident, I really felt like a criminal or a terrorist, I wanted to burst in tears.

These customs and border patrol agents are really trained to be hard, disrespectful, and demanding. I had never been so mortified and scared especially from law enforcement, aren’t they suppose to protect us not scare us?

After a little research, I understand that the law enforcement are suppose to be scary to those who are real criminals and those who are breaking the law. Apparently, I was breaking a tiny rule. Pictures should not be taken of anything due to terrorists’ acts, drug cartel connections, security issues (people should not know where offices are located and where dogs are located).

The only problem that I had was the way they handled my situation, in terms of yelling in my face and just snagging my camera out of my hands. I’m just this sweet looking girl that wouldn’t kill a fly. I was just doing my duty but instead got yelled at and got confused as a terrorist (like Laura Ling and Euna Lee). As I was walking back to my car, people who saw the incident were staring at me and whispering into one another ears.

Just a little advice for journalism students, don’t get caught taking pictures of any of the five international bridges at El Paso, you will be humiliated and treated like a criminal, and even taken in for questioning.

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2 Comments

  1. David O. Garcia on

    Please write your congressman about the incident just a you describe here. I had a similar incident in Miami on returning from an assignment in Bolivia covering a drug kingpin. The customs a**hole tried to intimidate us but once he found out we were journalists he backed off. Don’t back off. This won’t be the last time you will have run ins with officials. Talk to the pros at the local stations and they would have handled it and also tell them your story. Don’t hide it. Welcome to the new century.

    David

  2. Wendy Krizmanic on

    These men and women are in charge of securing our borders and keeping us safe. What does a terrorist look like? You may not look threatening but they don’t know who you are or your intentions. I tell you, I would not want their jobs – would you?

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