Chapter 10

We’re separated from the girls and taken to a large room where a couple of immigration agents photograph and fingerprint us, then lead us to one of several large holding cells—cages really.  The one we’re put in has two cement walls with benches in front of them, and two walls made out of steel bars, just like in the movies. There are several white wooden benches in the middle of the cell, but all the benches are full of illegals. The only seat not taken is the stainless steel one in the corner, and I’m pretty thankful that one is not occupied. There are no partitions or doors for privacy, aside from a waist-high cement wall that makes up the third side of a stainless steel box the toilet sits in. There is nothing closing up the forth side.  I don’t particularly want to watch anyone take a dump. God knows I won’t have to go no matter long I’m in here.

Rodrigo, Gerardo, Juan and Josel walk over to some of the guys who were here before us and Rodrigo immediately starts talking and making friends. I pick out the emptiest space inside this cell and stand in the middle of it. Making friends here is not something I’m interested in. I look around and notice I’m the only white guy in here. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think I’d end up in here. It’s a strange sensation, being in the cage. It’s like I’m in some parallel universe and any moment now we’re going to be visited by a parade of animals, staring, making faces. . .

After a while, I begin to notice that everyone Rodrigo has been talking to is staring at me. They must be talking about the shift today. Could this day get any worse? Oh wait, here comes a couple of swell looking guys. Tattoos all up their arms and neck, squinty eyes, and strutting like badasses. Gang-bangers. I’ve got to stop asking if this day could get any worse, every time I do, it does.

The tall one has a face like a cactus and the two smaller ones are younger, but look like they’ve been fighting someone or something all their lives. Stone faces all of them. “There’s a guy says you work for Immigration,” the taller one says. Everyone stops what they’re doing and looks over at me. I can’t move.

“No. Who told you that?”

“He says you beat up his son.”

Son? Oh shit! Are they here? I look around for some vaguely familiar faces. “That’s crazy. If I worked for immigration, what would I be doing in here?”

“You tell me, home-boy,” the tall one takes a step closer. His three-day beard is an inch away from my face. His breath smells like he brushed his teeth with beer, and it’s making my stomach turn. The other two look up at me with their heads tilted way back, like they are peeking underneath an invisible bandana that covers the top part of their eyes. I have nowhere to go. I can see people are spreading out and giving us room. I don’t need any more room. I don’t want to fight these guys.

Angry Spanish flies over the crowd from the neighboring cell. Everyone from this cell looks in the direction of the voice, and then turns back to look at me again. They expect an answer, but I have no idea what was said. If I don’t know Spanish, will that prove to them I’m an immigration officer?

The big tough guy in front of me says something in Spanish, but I don’t understand that either. The two guys with him smile and look at each other, but when they return their attention back to me, their faces lose all traces of happiness. What the hell did that mean? This would be a really good time to know some jail-house Spanish. The only Spanish I can think of is, quiero la soda grande? Or, would you like a large soda with that?

They all move in closer. “I think this is a bad day for you to get locked up white-boy.”  Beer breath grabs my Taco Bell vest and pushes me against the cement wall to my right. I feel like I got hit by a car. He presses his face close to mine, like he’s about to tell me a secret. Everyone but me is smiles and good times. I try not to vomit while I brace for impact. . .  “What are you dressed up for white boy. You gonna make us some tacos?” I try to smile and show him I’m no tough guy. “What are you laughing at? You think I’m funny?”

“No!”

“You think I’m playing a game?”

“No—“

“Okay, you ugly sons-a-bitches. . . “ a guard yells from outside the cell. He says some other stuff, but in some other kind of Spanish I’ve never heard before. He starts calling out names and guys leave the cell to stand in a line by the door. My name gets called and everybody laughs. Typical, but I’ve never been so happy to hear my name called.  I wave my hand, acknowledging my name has been called and slide past my would-be attackers. As I make my way to the open door, I feel a hundred pair of eyes burning their way into my back as I leave.

“Hey, white-boy! I’d sleep with one eye open if I were you,” the big ugly guy says, and his two friends smile slightly and stand there beside him, looking down their noses at me. I hope these guys go to jail for a long time; keep them off the streets.

Everyone whose name was called is standing on a yellow line that’s painted on the floor and runs the length of the hallway, disappearing around the corner. I stand on the line like everyone else. I have a good view of the cell next to the one I came out of.  I lock eyes with the father of a son whose face is swollen and discolored. A chill runs down my back. They begin talking to themselves, and some of the guys around them turn and look at me. I’ve been be taken to the same place as the guys we captured yesterday. Of course! I should have thought about the possibility of this on the way over here.

The whole group of guys surrounding the Mexicans I helped capture rush to the bars and several begin yelling and saying things in Spanish. I feel a sharp jab in my back. I don’t dare turn around to see who did it or with what.

“Calla te,” one of the guards yells, but that does little good.  At the head of the line a guard yells a command and we all walk single file down the hallway on the yellow line painted on the floor.

“Seems we have a celebrity,” a female guard says.

As we walk the guy behind me kicks the bottom of my right foot as I am picking it up to take my next step. I stumble and trip a bit, but keep my balance.

“Back in line,” yells a guard, and I jump back in line. A few steps later, I get a knee in the butt and I stumble forward, slightly bumping into the guy in front of me, who turns around and shoves me back. I stumble into place and continue walking. We turn the corner and again the bottom of my foot gets kicked and I go flying into the guy in front of me, who pushes me even harder into the guy who kicked me, who then pushes me with his shoulder.

I’m grabbed by my elbow, thankfully, before I fall, but then I’m flung into a wall, my arms pinned behind me and my face smashed hard into the fresh white paint.

“Knock it off, asshole,” a male voice says. “We got a special way we deal with your kind around here.”

I don’t know who my kind is at the moment, but I don’t want to argue with. I can’t wait to explain I don’t belong here. Maybe we’re going to talk to a judge or lawyer or something, or maybe I’ll get to make my phone call.

We walk a short distance, and we’re ordered to stop and stand up against the wall. I think we’re not supposed to touch a shorter red line on the floor, or stay behind it or don’t go outside it. I’ll just do like everybody else. That should keep me out of trouble, unless someone decides to start a riot. What should I do then? Does that even happen here?  I feel so helpless.

One by one a door opens and a guard takes one of us into the room, and at the same time, a guard leaves with the person who went in before. The exiting Mexican is taken around the corner. Whatever they’re doing in that room doesn’t take very long. I wonder where we go after this? I hope they let me go. I need to get out of here fast. What if they put me in the cell with the kid I beat up yesterday? Do people ever die in here?

When it’s my turn, I get the officer who shoved me into the wall. He smiles, like he just won the lottery. I don’t think I’m going to like what happens next.

He pushes me inside a small, pea green room with a guy in a cheap suit, sitting in a chair on the other side of a large metal table.

“Nombre”

“My name is Frank Veela, look there has been some kind of mistake-”

“Shut Up!” he yells. “Frank is some kind of nick-name is it?  Well I’m glad you speak English. I’m going to skip the Spanish version. Here’s the deal: If you agree to a ‘Expedited Removal,’ this will not go on your record, you will probably get released today, and you’ll get dropped off at the border.”

“I’m trying to tell you, I’m not a Mexican, I’m an—“

“Your second option is to request a hearing. You will be held in this facility until you go before a judge, but that could take months, and if you aren’t deemed eligible for bail, you are held for several more months awaiting trial. Lose the trial, and you are banned from re-entry into the United States for three years and you are dropped off at the border. Which sounds better to you?”

“But I’m not a Mexican. I’m a manager—“

“Don’t tell me that! That will automatically make you stay here until a bail hearing, which could be weeks from now. Then, when bail is met, you could be awarded a fine of up to $2000 per illegal hire. It says here that seven people were brought in with you. That could be fourteen thousand dollars. In case you haven’t heard, we are getting tough on illegal workers here in the US.”

I can’t believe I’m hearing this.

“Then there’s the trial process. You could be here a very long time. My advice, accept Expedited Removal and get out of here today. No fine, no penalty. Otherwise, be prepared to stay here a while.”

“Don’t I get a lawyer?”

“Right now, I’m him.”

“Wait-“

“No waiting. This is the deal, take it and go home, refuse it and stay here. Here are the forms—you choose, and make it quick. I have thirty more people to talk to before I submit these to the judge for his signature in half an hour.”

“But I’m not a Mexican, I have a student ID card in a plastic baggie with my wallet.”

“Very funny. Last time I checked, a student ID card is not a recognized form of legal identification.”

“But I’m an American, I swear to God.”

“Look, I’ll level with you. I’ve heard people try that before and it hasn’t worked the whole time I’ve been doing this, so I’d give it up right now. Especially since, with your real name and all, that will only piss the judge off, and he’s the last guy you want to mess with right now.”

He’s worse than those guys in the other cell? Oh my God! When did I enter the twilight zone? Is this really happening?

“Okay, I’ll say you request a hearing and you’ll go back to the cell.”

I can’t go back to that cell. “Hey, wait, I’ve never done this before.”

“Well you better get good at it quick, or you’re in a heap a shit. Sign the paper saying you voluntarily want to go back to Mexico and get out today. It’s really a no-brainer if you ask me.”

“Are you sure?”

“Hey, I’m on your side. This is the easiest, quickest way out of here.”

I pick up the pen. It feels funny in my hand, like I’ve never held one before. I start to sign it, but I temporarily forget how to sign my name. When I’m finished he snaps up the paper.

“Okay, next!”

The door opens and it’s my turn to get escorted down the hallway and around the corner.

I’m flung into a cell, about half the size of the one I almost got beat up in and all the benches are bolted to the floor. I slam into a wall and all the Mexicans already in the cell slide over so as not to get hit. I sit against the wall I slam into, not even trying to grab an empty space on a bench. Everything else looks the same. All the light in here comes from dirty, florescent overhead lighting, giving everything an oddly fake tint, like this is some bad dream that I’ll eventually wake up from, but the pain in my shoulder and growing lump on my head remind me this is really happening.

There are already ten guys in here, and more come all the time. What if that big ugly guy comes in here? Or what if one of the guys I helped arrest come in here? Or their friends? Why is this happening to me? I’m an American.

Each and every minute I’m here ticks away slowly, especially since I don’t have my watch. Every time I hear footsteps coming down the hallway, I brace for bad news.

Mike J Quinn About Mike J Quinn
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