r-zgait'” FEATURE Borderline Chaos STORY AND PHOTOS BY JUDITH TORREA 01Z continued from front page I had no idea where I was, but it occurred to me that I had seen rooms like this beforealways as a reporter and always with the full cooperation of INS. It was in rooms like this that they detained people suspected of trying to enter the United States illegally. I stood per fectly still, observing everything around me. Suddenly an agent shouted at me from the next room and told me to sit down. “No, thank you,” I answered. “I’m fine.” But he insisted: “SIT DOWN!” That’s when I realized that this wouldn’t be like all those other visits, when they had offered me sodas and everyone was all smiles. And so I sat there, with my computer, my camera, and my little suitcase at my side. I had gone to the border to report on the effect of the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. I still had a full schedule of interviews pending in El Paso before I could catch the return flight to Austin, but it didn’t look like I would be going anywhere for a while. Right next to me was a glass-enclosed office, where I could see two agents looking at my passport and a computer. The older man seemed to be showing something to the younger agent. “She’s from Spain,” I .heard him say as they walked out the door, “and her country is on the list of 40 countries with terrorists.” Well, I am from Spain. What’s more, I’m Basque. I learned to say I learned to say “hola” in Spanish. When I was a little girl, el Olentzero \(a tle that sometimes you’re not aware of it, even when it’s going on all around you. I remained seated, waiting for my next order. Then I rose like a soldier when I heard: “Come here. We’re going to fingerprint you and take your picture.” “Why?” I asked. “We can’t tell you anything,” answered Agent G. Lopez, the younger man, although he did offer one bit of information: They were questioning me because I was not Mexican. They proceeded to take my fingerprints and photograph me. Afterwards I noticed that an enormous sign, written in an elegant, fastidiously correct Spanish, was posted on the wall above me: “WARNING:You have been registered in a system known as `ident: Your fingerprints and photograph have been recorded electronically. It is important that you are aware that the next time you may be subject to judicial proceedings by the Immigration and Naturalization Service of the United States.” I had to ask Agent Lopez what it all meant and he conceded that the message was a little harsh. “We’re on maximum alert,” he said. “I can’t answer any more questions.” Then my cell phone began to ring. Leticia Zamarripa, the INS spokeswoman in El Paso, wondered what had happened to me. I had scheduled an appointment to interview her that afternoon. “You can’t answer phone calls!” the older INS inspector interrupted. the Three Kings, and not Santa Claus. But I had never been brought in for interrogation before, neither in Spain, where we have been dealing with ETA, the Basque terrorist group, for decades, nor across the border in France. Of course, over there, investigation is qften so sub I tried to explain that I was a journalist and was supposed to be meeting his colleague at that very moment. They had never asked me anything before they took my prints and photos. But someone had opened a computer file, and as I peered over at the screen, I could see that my name appeared next to 6 THE TEXAS OBSERVER 12/21/01
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