As I boarded the train during a recent trip home, Amtrak ticket in hand, I did not expect the scene that unfolded before my eyes. A border patrol officer in the middle of the aisle, looking over the Ohio driver's license of the man whom I was assigned to sit next to asked the man - who was of Indian descent and spoke with an accent - questions about his visa, apparently now expired. After considering the situation, the officer informed the man that he was in the United States illegally.
This really happens? was my first, albeit naive, reaction. Aside from occasional news headlines or brief mentions in conversation, I had never given much thought to the border control issues in the United States.
"He's got a driver's license! You're racially profiling!" shouted a passenger a few rows back.
"This job isn't about race, it's about nationality," the officer responded.
Though I personally thought both parties were handling the present circumstances irresponsibly, the passenger's argument seemed legitimate. The man seated next to me had a driver's license and who was I to accuse him of having a fake on the basis of the situation that just occurred? I, too, had only thought to carry my own state-issued license with me.
Since Sept. 11, national security has, not unreasonably, been a prominent topic in Washington. At what point, though, does our concern for terrorists, drug traffickers and the like override basic respect for people? Though I had only walked into the middle of the situation, it seemed as if the officer had passed judgment on this man before ever checking out his information. Negative attitudes towards people from other nations such as this will only worsen the shaky border control situation in the United States today.
While I agree that it's necessary to implement some security to control our borders and ports, I don't think it should be at the expense of those who validly wish to relocate to our country. Instead of accosting train passengers or drawing up plans to fence off Mexico, shouldn't we look to the reasons why so many choose to cross illegally, and make those that are actually able to navigate through the legal tangles of visas and immigration cards feel more welcome? It's reasonable to want to impose some controls on our borders, but criminalizing those who do not fit a certain mold of "nationality" is an irresponsible way of going about it.
The man, and thus the entire train, was forced to wait in Rochester as the officer tried to determine his legitimacy over the phone. He was eventually escorted off, repeating bewilderedly, "I didn't do anything wrong." My fellow passengers, who were rooting for him, booed.
"Where's my beer money?" asked a woman across the row from me, visibly dissatisfied with the situation. "I need a stiff one after this." Agreed.
Jill Capewell is a sophomore English major who swears her Green Card is totally legit.