Behind Door No. 2: Twenty-first Century Indian Removal

Column of the Americas
August 31, 2009

Fear: It’s What’s Behind Door #2
21st Century Indian Removal
By Roberto Rodriguez
Photo: Roberto Rodriquez walking for migrants dying in the Sonoran Desert, Tucson to San Xavier.
Photo Brenda Norrell

Upon arrival recently from Mexico City, after inspecting my passport, a U.S. immigration official at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport instructed me to “Please go to door number 2.”
When the same thing first happened to me at DFW several years ago, I replied: “Did I win a prize?”
This time, it was on the same day that Bollywood Superstar, Shah RukhKhan was detained at Newark’s Liberty International Airport.
Officially, Kahn was “not detained” for 66 minutes. His papers were simply checked and luggage misplaced.
Using that criteria, I have been further screened, but “not detained”more than a dozen times since 9-11 of 2001.
Both times that I was “not detained” at DFW – the wait at the secondary inspection lasted a half hour. The officials were not rude, though I almost missed my flights home.
Might these be incidents of racial profiling?
Admittedly, I am a brown man – who knows first hand the meaning of driving while brown (My encounters with law enforcement as a youngster and a young adult number in the many dozens). People of color have always known this reality. Red-Brown people in particular also haveknown the meaning of this when encountering immigration authorities not just at ports of entry, but also at internal checkpoints. I’ve long dubbed the work of the migra as “Indian Removal” – because that’s precisely who they profile – not people who look “Hispanic,” but rather, people who are red-brown. However, since 9-11 – the entire nation has gone wild[er], thus the fear-inspired: Department of Homeland Security. It is this same fear that prevents president Obama from defanging Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio – the face of racial profiling. That same fear permits programs such as Operation Streamline – a Federal Kangaroo Court in Tucson in which 70-80 Mexican or Central American people are tried, convicted and sentenced in court daily – all in one hour. Either they are instantly deported or sent to a private detention center.
Yet, what is happening at airports nowadays continues to be equally ominous. In my case, someone with my name is on a watch list. After the first time this happened, I was told that the person they are looking for is from South America – and about 20 years younger. After they ascertained that I was not him, they released me.
On at least several other occasions at DFW, without sending me to secondary, U.S. officials have raised the issue of me being on their lists. Once it was a rude encounter, treating me as though I should be thankful that I am permitted to fly U.S. skies.
What’s disconcerting is that despite U.S. officials knowing full wellthat I am not the person they are looking for – I remain on their watch list – or treated as such. This time, the official told me:“You’ve gone through this before, haven’t you?”
“Yes. This happened to me here at DFW several years ago.”
If they know this, not explained is why they continue with their intrusive behavior. Outdated computers? At the same time, what do South American countries have to do with America’s “War on Terror” and how did someone with a name like Rodriguez get on that list? The myth continues to be perpetrated – by the likes of CNN’s Lou Dobbs -- that peoples from the south have something to do with this so-called war.The vast majority of Arabs, South Asians and Muslims don’t have anything to do with this war either, but that seems to matter little for media types and government officials who apparently believe that all these mostly red-brown peoples “fit the profile.”
By the way, if you would like to know what’s behind door number 2, it: people of color.
It is clear that we now have a big brother apparatus unable and unwilling to purge its massive lists of innocent individuals.Truthfully, it’s the whole notion of a Homeland – conjured up by the Bush-Cheney administration, which has permitted these violating intrusions to be viewed as routine. It is this environment, since9-11, where and when I have found myself constantly “not detained” at airports nationwide. One time, I unnecessarily missed a flight. Other times – even before 9-11 – I was detained at the Hollywood-Burbank airport (while picking up a passenger), while another time my car was dismantled at an internal checkpoint in New Mexico.
With President Obama in office, this was supposed to change. Instead,we continue to move towards a Lou Dobbs vision of the world or the Arpaio-ization of the nation – a nation free of red-brown peoples.
Rodriguez, an assistant professor at the University of Arizona, can be reached at:


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