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Revisit to: Long, long ago in Mexico . . .

While browsing recently among past postings that are available on Twitter, hoping to find fodder for additional postings, I returned to this one. It is so beautifully composed and presented, and I enjoyed reading it so much, that I decided to bring it up from the depths of the Stygian darkness where it has stagnated for eighteen months—since June of 2009—and into the bright light of today.

Please note that I praise this posting with all modesty cast aside, just as I am wont to do with all my literary efforts. Please note also that the lawless situation that exists in Mexico today is not new—it was just as prevalent and just as brutal eighteen months ago as it is now. Click here to read the original post.

If you doubt my statement that the lawless situation in Mexico is not new , read the introductory paragraph below carefully, keeping in mind that it was written in June of 2009. I firmly believe that these conditions will prevail unless—and until—Mexico is annexed by the United States and our military forces are put into action in the newly acquired territory, but only after they are withdrawn from Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan and rested a bit. The sovereign nations of Mexico and the United States need to acknowledge that the drug cartels—the insurgents—are in charge, and are just as dangerous—nay, more dangerous—to the United States than the insurgents in the Middle East.

That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it!

Long, long ago in Mexico

Long, long ago in Mexico, in a time when drug lords were not spraying the streets with bullets from rapid-fire weapons purchased illegally in the United States and exported illegally to Mexico, and were not murdering Mexican police chiefs and news reporters and anyone else that might be expected to hamper their efforts to maintain control of Mexico and its citizens—long, long ago when roving gangs were not kidnapping U. S. citizens on both sides of the Mexican border and holding them for ransom and various other reasons—a time when the streets in Mexican border towns were as safe or safer than streets in our border cities—and a time when I was the supervisory Customs inspector at the Port of Roma, in the sleepy town of Roma, Texas, high on a bluff (the town was high, not I) overlooking the Rio Grande river, across from the even sleepier town of Miguel Aleman, Mexico—this was the time in which I and one of my three princesses (the one in Virginia that takes all the pretty pictures) took a brief trip to Mexico during her spring break from studies at Pan-American University in Edinburg, Texas.

In the spring of 1979, our father-and-daughter team (a college student of 18 tender years and a military-retiree father of 47 not-so-tender years) embarked on a memorable sojourn into the wilds of Mexico. We traveled in a 1978 Volkswagen diesel Rabbit, a small 4-door vehicle labeled “Panama Brown” by its maker, but its color could better be described as bright orange. It was a very small people carrier—to illustrate its smallness, I can tell you that somewhere between Monterrey, Mexico and Saltillo, Mexico, we strayed off-road into a canyon where it was necessary to navigate our auto around huge rocks, some much larger than the Rabbit. After circumventing several such rocks, with the paved highway receding in the distance and a line spoken by a Mexican bandit in a Hollywood western film ringing in our ears, reason prevailed and we returned to the pavement. That memorable line was, “We don’ take no stinkin’ prisoners!”

We began our adventure in Reynosa, Mexico, a metropolitan city on the Rio Grande river. The river marks the boundary between the U. S. and Mexico—its name in Spanish is Rio Bravo, a more appropriate and more appealing term than grand—I suppose it can be considered brave, but at no point can it be considered grand—at least not, for example, in comparison with our Mississippi river. Reynosa is directly opposite Hidalgo, Texas, a small city a few miles from McAllen, Texas.

Our first stop in Mexico was at the Office of Immigration to secure “permisos,” official documents that would authorize us to travel past the 15-kilometer check point, a distance of some 9-10 miles, beyond which is considered Mexico’s interior. Our treatment by Immigration officers began routinely, but progressed into a “situation.” The first officer we met took our vitals (name, citizenship, destination, purpose of visit, etc.), and leered knowingly when I said we were father and daughter—his thoughts were printed all over his face. He was thinking, “Yeah, sure, you are father and daughter, heh, heh, heh.” My daughter looked younger than her 18 years, and I grudgingly admit that I may have appeared a year or two older than my 47 years. After some copious stamping of various documents (our permits), the officer passed them to another officer that was apparently guarding the exit to the vehicle parking area.

The second officer gave our permits a cursory inspection, stuffed them into an envelope, laid them on the table in front of us and said in English, “Senor, anything you may wish to give.” This was a request for mordida, a very expressive Spanish noun derived from the Spanish verb “morder,” which means “to bite.” Mordida, a diminutive of that verb, is used to describe  “a little bite.” Mexican officials take “a little bite” out of everything which moves across the Mexican border, in both directions, including merchandise, produce and people. Mordida is a way of life in Mexico, so ingrained in the economy and in daily life that people expect the demand, and would be very surprised if it were not made.

The Mexico of today is a far cry from the Mexico of 1979. My response then would not be my response today, not in these trying times. This was 30 years ago, way back in 1979—times were different. I showed the officer my official identification and said, “Senor, no deseo dar. Soy el supervisor de las aduanas en el puerto de Roma, Tejas, y amplío cada cortesía a cualquier oficial del gobierno mexicano que entra en nuestro país.” What I said was, in fairly lucid Spanish, “Sir, I do not wish to give. I am the Customs supervisor at the port of Roma, Texas, and I extend every courtesy to any Mexican government official entering my country.”

The situation changed, abruptly and for the better. The officer stood, shook hands with us and escorted us to his commander. He introduced me to his commander as the Customs jefe at Roma, and introduced my daughter as my daughter. The comandante enthusiastically welcomed us into Mexico, and offered to accompany us to our vehicle and place official seals on our luggage—with those seals we would not be burdened with inspections at the 15-kilometer check point. Having nothing to hide and not wishing to call undue attention to ourselves, I politely declined the offer. We were, however, accompanied to our vehicle and were sent on our way with a hearty “Vaya con dios,” the Spanish version of “God speed.” And we sped away, at least as well as we could in a 4-cylinder diesel Volkswagen.

At the check point we barely slowed down—the officials there made us welcome and expressed their hopes that we would enjoy our visit to their country. We were reasonably certain that the station had been notified, whether by phone, radio, smoke signals or passenger pigeon, that our arrival at the check point was imminent, and that we could be identified from a distance because we would arrive in a little-bitty bright orange (Panama brown) car.

In our family we have always numbered our adventures, but the numbers are never in sequence and we never record them—someone simply picks a number and off we go. This adventure encompasses many scenarios, some foolish, some frightening, all memorable and well worth the telling. After passing the check point we took in the cities of Monterrey and Saltillo and a visit to and into Garcia’s Cave, a visit that was both foolish and frightening.

I’ll get back to you later with more details.

 

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Let’s put the blind to work . . .

Listen up, Homeland Security!

Listen up, Janet Napolitano!

Listen up, Barack Obama!

I have a suggestion that will provide work opportunities for a group of our citizens that is in far too many instances overlooked for employment, and in too many instances are limited to stringing beads for costume jewelry or similar work. There is a niche in our federal government that can utilize the blind. Our nation’s Department of Homeland Security can provide well-paying jobs and economic security for such people, jobs that will produce immediate results by helping protect the traveling public from harm.

I propose hiring those in our society that are blind—not just legally blind, able to distinguish form and function but completely blind, or perhaps able only to distinguish light from darkness. Such persons can contribute significantly to the security of the United States of America.

First, as is necessary in public speaking, let me establish my right to speak. I am a retired U. S. Customs inspector, having worked on the Texas-Mexico border for twelve years as an inspector trainee, journeyman and first-level and second-level supervisor, at Customs’ Headquarters in Washington DC as a Program Officer and Program Manager, at Customs’ Regional Headquarters in Houston TX, and finally as Chief Inspector at one of our nation’s top-20 international airports. During my 26-year career with Customs I conducted and supervised and observed countless personal searches. I therefore feel that I am qualified to speak on that subject—nay, not simply qualified—I am eminently qualified—I am in fact damn well qualified, so to speak.

Under current procedures used for pat-down personal searches at our airports no searcher, whether male or female, will ever find anything by wearing plastic gloves and using the backs of their hands in an effort to detect something that may compromise the safety of an aircraft and its occupants. I realize that the searches have been modified to include using the fronts of their hands, but you may be assured that most will not do that except when the search is being observed by a supervisor—in all the searches I conducted and witnessed in my years on the border, not once did I see the searcher use the crotch-crunch technique mandated by Customs’ Headquarters. As for my own searches I tried it once, didn’t like it and didn’t do it again—at least I’m honest about it—most inspectors aren’t!

That mandate is a hard one to follow, so to speak, for any self-respecting male officer searching another male. Female searchers can detect the presence of bras and breasts on females (depending on dimensions, of course)  and male searchers can detect testicles and penises on males (again depending on dimensions), and not much of anything else. Any squeeze of a woman’s breasts by a female searcher will generate a complaint, and any squeeze of a man’s private part or parts by a male will do the same.

I doubt seriously that a sighted searcher, blindfolded and wearing plastic gloves and using the back of the hands can even distinguish whether the suspect is male or female (again depending on dimensions of certain body parts). The person being patted down may be a man posing as a woman or vice versa, a ruse that is used frequently in Middle Eastern countries by would-be suicide bombers.

You don’t believe it? Please consider Braille, the contact alphabet of raised dots representing letters and numbers that enables the blind to read texts and operate elevators. Take any blind person, male or female and ask that person to don plastic gloves and then read a sentence printed in Braille using the back of the hands. Better yet, have them use the back of the gloved hands to read Braille numbers on an elevator. Unless the elevator is in a two-story building with no basement, they are likely to stop at the wrong floor. Use the same experiment on a sighted but blindfolded person and that person will wind up on the wrong floor also.

Get the picture?

If blind people can read text and numbers with their fingers, then they can conduct pat-down searches effectively if allowed to use their fingers. Their touch is so sensitive that even wearing the required plastic gloves they will detect any anomaly. Hell, they may even find an unevenly shaped mole and by calling it to the suspect’s attention they may even save a life!

Think about it—the sex of the person being searched and the sex of the searcher should not be a factor. The blind searcher could be searching his own wife or her own husband, and it is unlikely that they would know it. And it should make no difference to the person being searched, because the blind person, regardless of what the search may reveal, could never identify that person.

That’s it—that’s my suggestion. I could ramble on indefinitely on the ramifications and possibilities  should my suggestion be adopted but that should not be necessary. The proof will be in the pudding—my suggestion to use blind people to conduct pat-down searches at airports will produce positive results, reduce complaints from the traveling public, protect our pilots, flight attendants and passengers from harm by keeping aircraft airborne and safe from actions of would-be terrorists. The benefits are many and obvious, and more discussion should be unnecessary.

Just as an aside, I seek no remuneration should my suggestion be adopted. A simple Nobel Peace Prize will do, and it should be considered. Our system will work so well that other nations will follow by utilizing their blind people to conduct pat-downs. In that event I will of course donate the monetary award to my favorite charity. Other than the Nobel Peace Prize I would consider the award of a Congressional Gold Medal, to be presented by our president, but the presentation would have to be at my home rather than the White House—I’ve been there and was not impressed, and I have no desire to return.

Of course the Nobel Peace Prize or the Congressional Gold Medal could be, and probably would be, handed over to UPS for delivery by the driver to my home just as the plaque, the one given in recognition of my 48 years of dedicated federal service that included 22 years of military service during which I helped our nation lose two wars (Korea and Viet Nam). The plaque was delivered soon after I retired—the driver placed it, gently of course, on my porch, rang the doorbell and hotfooted it back to his truck—such adulation! Such personal recognition! I teared up!

That’s my suggestion and that’s my story, and I’m sticking to it!

 

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Murder in Mexico on Falcon Lake . . .

Murder in Mexico on Falcon Lake . . .

Television and newspapers today are sharply focused on the recent murder of a jet-ski rider that was moving around on the Mexican side of Falcon Lake that straddles the international boundary between the U. S. and Mexico. It’s a giant reservoir, a body of water that extends some fifty miles along the Rio Grande River. The waters of the Rio Grande River are impounded by a huge dam near the city of Roma, Texas. The invisible international boundary line in the lake divides the countries of Mexico and the United States, and divides Texas and the Mexican state of Tamaulipas.

The murdered man was on a jet-ski, a personal watercraft, and was accompanied by his wife who was mounted on a second jet-ski. She witnessed the murder and successfully escaped with her life. Now her story is being questioned because neither the jet-ski nor a body has been found by Mexican authorities, and those worthies will not allow American law enforcement officers to participate in the search. I believe that privilege is being denied because the jet-ski and the body were recovered either by Mexican authorities, persons working for Mexican drug cartels or by members of a Mexican drug cartel. I also believe that both the jet-ski and the body, and especially the body, have been concealed or destroyed in such a manner that the odds of them being recovered or found range from slim to none. I predict that they will never be found, and without the body or the jet-ski the Mexicans will continue to deny that no criminal action occurred.

Much of this is standard procedure in relations between us and our neighbor to the south. The drug cartels control Mexico with the use of cash from their illegal operations—local and federal Mexican officials either accept the bribes or they will be killed—other citizens, with or without an offer of cash, will in either case look the other way to avoid being killed. That’s a brutal way for a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate—perhaps a trillion-dollar conglomerate—to operate, but it is quite effective.

I worked on the Texas-Mexico border as a Customs inspector for twelve years, first as a trainee and journeyman inspector at Progreso, Texas, then as a first-level supervisor at Roma and Falcon Dam for two and one-half years, and finally at the port of Brownsville, Texas for another three and one-half years. I then spent three years at Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC and later held enforcement positions in Houston and San Antonio for another ten years. Looking back on my experiences and the knowledge I gleaned over a period of twenty-six years, I feel fairly well qualified to express my opinion of that murder incident and of the area where it occurred.

One brief statement can describe the incident. It is true—it happened. The man was murdered, either by cartel members or persons supporting the cartels, and the murder is being covered up with the knowledge and assistance of Mexican federal officials. That area on both sides of the border was lawless even before it became a part of the United States in 1848 following our war with Mexico . It was lawless then, it is lawless now and it will remain lawless into the predictable future. That is the nature of the terrain and its population on both sides of the international boundary, whether on land or on the water.

It is not my intention to paint every person in the area as lawless—the population contains the usual mixture of the good, the bad and the ugly—well, perhaps more of the bad than of the other two—my neighborhood and any other neighborhood reflects a similar amalgamation of people, differing only in degree. That area along the Texas/Mexico border is lawless because of its terrain and its proximity to Mexico. Smuggling in Starr County, Texas has for centuries literally been, and to this day remains, a way of life for many of the county’s residents. Merchandise, animals and people are routinely smuggled from Texas to Mexico and from Mexico to Texas, while cash, weapons and ammunition are smuggled into Mexico and illegal narcotics are smuggled into Texas. Much of the smuggling is done to avoid paying duty and taxes on the U. S. side, and paying duty, taxes and mordida on the Mexican side. Mordida is the diminutive of the verb morder, to bite—mordida is a little bite added to the legitimate cost of importations and exportations—on the Mexican side it adds a considerable amount to the cost of doing business, whether legal or illegal business.

A case in point would be the movement of horses across the Rio Grande River in the past, and perhaps even now. The law requires that live animals be subjected to examination by proper officials, whether  going out of the U.S. or coming into the U.S. In past years quarter-horse races have been held and probably are still being held, on both sides of the Rio Grande. Rather than be bothered by quarantine laws and paying mordida, owners and trainers would take their horses to a bend in the river that would guarantee that a horse forced into the water would swim to the other side, where an accomplice would recover the animal, then off to the races– time saved, no veterinarian fees, no holding period, etc. One must necessarily view that as practical, and the odds of being detected were virtually nil. The point is that if one can smuggle a full grown horse from nation to nation in both directions, smuggling narcotics should be a snap—and it is.

Some of Starr County’s features were summed up thusly by a writer in a Playboy magazine article published in the 1970s: The author told Playboy’s readers that in order to visit Rio Grande City, the  county seat of Starr County, Texas you should fly into San Antonio, rent a car and drive to Laredo, make a left turn there and drive until you smell feces—that would be Roma, Texas—then continue straight until you step in it and you’ll be in Rio Grande City, the county seat of Starr County. I seriously doubt that the article increased tourist traffic in the area.

Mexico as a nation and Mexicans as individuals have always felt that our annexation of Texas in 1845, an act that led to our war with Mexico, was illegal and it probably was. Mexico has also always felt that the land lost to the United States in 1848 with Mexico’s defeat in the war between the nations was unwarranted and unfair. Perhaps the drug cartels will at sometime in the future reclaim much of that land, especially in the lower and upper Rio Grande Valley and in the great state of Arizona. The cartels already rule Starr County during the hours of darkness—the next step is to dominate the area during daylight hours—the way things are going now, it could happen.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on October 9, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement, neighbors, politics

 

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Donna and the detector dog . . .

Donna and the detector dog . . .

For the last half of my three-year assignment at U.S. Customs Headquarters in Washington DC, I was assigned the responsibilities of Customs’ national program manager of the detector dog program. In the interest of full disclosure, I grudgingly state that while I was charged with all the program’s responsibilities, I was not given the promotion that the position warranted—I had the title, the workload and a half-assed promise of upgrading in the future, but that never materialized, and in that eighteen months my interest in most things federal waned—I became so desperate to get out of Dodge that I requested and received a lateral transfer to Houston, Texas. Click here for a discussion of my not-so-brief six months in Houston—it showcases one of Houston’s most undesirable features. It’s an open letter to a burglar.

Just as an aside, any reader of this posting may feel that perhaps I have ill will towards upper level management in the U. S. Customs hierarchy, and that perhaps that I may hold some sort of grudge. If so, they would be right. I do, and I do. I can sum it up by saying that a beautiful plaque from those worthies, a plaque praising my time in the federal work force, a total of 48 years encompassing 22 years with the military and combat tours in two wars and 26 years as a federal law officer—that plaque was dropped at my door by a UPS driver that rang the doorbell and hastened back to his truck—so much for presentation and pomp, and for circumstance and ceremony!

My duties as a program manager required frequent trips to various international airports, seaports and border crossing points to monitor, evaluate and report detector dog operations to upper levels of management. Click here to read about a trip to California to observe enforcement operations at several Customs locations. Trust me, it’s worth the visit—it involves a goat in my hotel room.

During a memorable visit to Buffalo, New York I heard this claim made by a journeyman detector dog handler. He said that the happiest girl in the whole USA entered the port at Rainbow Bridge, and he was ordered to run his dog on Donna Fargo’s lavished furnished tour bus on her return from performances in Canada.

The detector dog’s search produced negative results, but it generated a classic tale. From that day forward the dog handler claimed, to fellow employees and to the world in general, that he had spent some time in Donna Fargo’s bed—and that he was not alone! The unvarnished truth, of course, is that he stretched out on the singer’s bed and ordered his canine teammate to lie beside him for a brief period, thus the claim that he had spent some time in her bed, and that he was not alone. I suspect that if the dog could talk, he would make the same claim in smoke-filled canine bars and casinos.

So much for a moment of levity in the life of a detector dog handler, a life and an occupation that is sometimes highly rewarding but one that is far too often the subject of many jokes and crass remarks. During my assignment as manager of the national program I made every effort to squelch the oft-quoted definition of a detector dog team as a leash with a problem at both ends—my efforts were unsuccessful.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript:

This is for the half-dozen or so people in the world’s population of some six and one-half billion that have not heard this one. Have you heard about the atheist that had dyslexia? He didn’t believe in Dog.

 
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Posted by on October 7, 2010 in bridge, Humor, Military, Travel

 

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Mexico—Texas border relations . . .

In 1977 during my sixth year as a journeyman Customs inspector at the port of Progreso, Texas I was promoted to a first-level supervisory position at the port of Roma,Texas. Roma was a small port in terms of staffing, consisting of the port director, a first-level supervisor, the office manager and ten inspectors—one of the ten was a combination inspector and detector dog handler. The image at right shows the old international suspension bridge, built in 1927 and the new bridge completed in 1979. The old bridge remains as a historic structure and will only be used for pedestrian traffic.

A cursory review of enforcement records at the port presented a dismal picture of enforcement—either everyone that entered the port was scrupulously honest, or the inspection force was lax in its enforcement duties. The latter proved to be the case, and with the port director’s assistance and approval I developed and established procedures intended to improve the enforcement posture of the port. With only two exceptions the inspection staff was local, born and reared in the area with relatives on both sides of the international border. Complacency was the order of the day when I arrived, and I soon incurred the wrath of the inspectors and that of a goodly number of international travelers.

The seizures began to stack up—small amounts of various narcotics were intercepted by increasing the number of vehicles sent to the secondary inspection area, along with undeclared items such as alcoholic beverages, prohibited fruits, meats and plants. By checking vehicle serial numbers our interceptions of stolen vehicles began to rise, and Customs duties and fines collected on undeclared commercial importations and personal importations began to pour in to our cashier.

There was a new kid on the block, a supervisor that almost immediately incurred the displeasure of citizens of the local community, the inspection staff at the port, travelers from the interior of Mexico and local citizens from Miguel Aleman, Roma’s sister city on the other side of the Rio Grande River. I also incurred the wrath of our Mexican federal counterparts at the other end of the bridge spanning the river.

In the early days of my assignment at Roma, I frequently took the place of the officer at the primary inspection point, and in that position I checked vehicle interiors when traffic was light, and referred vehicles to the secondary inspection area when traffic increased. I also worked with inspectors in the secondary area, confirming declarations made at primary and searching travelers and their vehicle’s contents, and the seizures began to mount.

Miguel Aleman was the Mexican city at the other end of the suspension bridge spanning the Rio Grande River at Roma. The Mexican federal building housed a full staff of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture officers, all fully subject to United States laws when entering the country. Early one morning I checked a Mexican Customs officer and his vehicle, a Volkswagen bus, in the secondary area. The officer told the primary officer he was bringing nothing from Mexico, and repeated his declaration to me in secondary. I found two young boys hiding in the wagon, one behind the back seat and one hidden under the back seat.

The little fellow under the rear seat had crawled through a very small opening and the sliding panel was closed behind him. I slid the panel open, saw a pair of shoes and closed the panel. At that instant I realized that I had seen a pair of feet in that pair of shoes and I ordered the Mexican officer to extract his passenger—it wasn’t an easy task!

Questioning by U. S. Immigration officers determined that the boys were the officer’s nephews and neither boy had the documents necessary for entry in the United States, so the Mexican Customs officer hid them—he wanted to take them to the city of McAllen, Texas to purchase clothing and supplies for the coming school year—the small city of Roma offered very little in the way of shopping.

That stalwart representative of Mexico’s federal inspection force, regardless of his reasons, was guilty of breaking the laws of the United States. He could have easily secured a temporary pass from Immigration for the purpose, but he preferred to smuggle the boys in, just as he and others had done in the past, obviously feeling that no inspection would be made. That pretty well summarizes the enforcement posture that existed at the port of Roma prior to my assignment there. If two kids could be smuggled in without fear of detection, virtually any amount of illegal narcotics could pass with the same ease. I have no doubt that they did in the past, but I at least slowed them down during my tenure there, some two and one-half years.

The commander of Miguel Aleman’s federal Customs staff made a negative declaration to me at the primary point. I asked him to step out of the car—a late model Mark IV Lincoln—and open the trunk for inspection. With some hesitation but without protest, he opened the trunk and revealed a case of bottled alcoholic beverages purchased in Mexico. He said he was taking them to a friend in McAllen. I told him he was subject to a fine and forfeiture of the merchandise, and referred him to the Immigration office. He was allowed to continue with the importation after paying federal tax, Customs duties and Texas state tax on the liquor. The penalty in that instance should have been seizure and forfeiture of the merchandise and payment of a fine equal to the value of the merchandise. The decision to lessen the penalty was not mine—that was the decision of the Customs and Immigration chiefs—they felt that a more severe penalty would strain relations between U. S. and Mexican federal officers—go figure!

At that time I drove a Panama brown diesel Volkswagen Rabbit, and diesel in Mexico was only $.12 a gallon, a bargain that was not easily ignored. A few days after referring the Mexican commandante for possible seizure and forfeiture of the liquor I crossed the river for a diesel fill-up. I was in my official uniform, and prior to my encounter with the Mexican officer with the liquor I would have been passed with a friendly smile with no questions asked. Not this time—I was ordered to remain in line while the officer returned with the commandante. That worthy approached my car, stopped by the driver’s side and unsmilingly stared down at me—he was tall and my little Rabbit was not—with some trepidation I stared back at him. Neither of us spoke, and after an agonizingly long moment he motioned me to proceed. I continued to the gas station a few blocks from the bridge, filled up with diesel and returned to the United States without further incident.

That long silent moment before I was allowed to proceed was obviously meant to show me that he had the power to refer me for inspection, with or without a valid reason. His action was prompted by my referring him for questioning by Customs and Immigration officers. The obvious question to ask me at this point would be whether I was intimidated. The answer is a resounding yes—to use a time-worn analogy, my nerves were drawn so tight that my posterior was cutting washers out of the seat cover of that Rabbit.

Yes, I was intimidated—horror tales abound concerning detentions of Americans by Mexican officials, ranging from local police up to federal officers. In fact, a DEA officer, an official of our Drug Enforcement Administration, had recently been kidnapped and killed in Mexico. His murder was attributed to Mexico’s drug cartels rather than by Mexican federal officers but then, as now, the line between the two is often blurred.

Yes, I was intimidated, but it did not affect my duties as a supervisory U. S. Customs officer. I continued in the same vein for the rest of my stay at Roma, right up to the day that I transferred following my promotion to a second-level supervisory position at the international bridge at Brownsville, Texas. I continued to buy diesel for my Rabbit in Mexico, but I shunned Miguel Aleman’s theaters and restaurants—my diesel buying ended when the station pumped gasoline into the tank instead of diesel—they drained the tank and replaced the gasoline with diesel, explaining that a new employee made the mistake—yeah, right!

Suffice it to say that I made few friends and many enemies in the early days of my assignment to Roma, and that applied to our cadre of Customs, Immigration and Agriculture inspectors—they resented my treatment of their long-time friends and family members and their counterparts in Mexico. I accepted that as a hazard peculiar to my occupation—mine was a lonely job, but the pay was good and there was no heavy lifting, and I thrived on the rancor.

Speaking frankly, I didn’t like them any better than they liked me. Both I and they were pleased when two and one-half years later in 1980 I was promoted and transferred to the port of Brownsville, Texas. My promotion was based in large part on the improvements made in Roma’s enforcement posture—upper level management felt that a similar situation existed at Brownsville. In a meeting with an upper level official prior to the final selection to fill the vacancy at Brownsville, I was told that a strong enforcement-oriented supervisor was needed—actually the expression used was that a hard-ass supervisor was needed. Among other problems, enforcement was lax, and misuse of overtime was the order of the day. Evidently the selection board felt that I had the necessary qualifications including the hard-ass, because I was selected for the position. And yes, you guessed it—shortly after my arrival at Brownsville, with the assistance of the newly assigned chief inspector, inspection overtime was cut drastically and seizures and arrests rose dramatically. The majority of inspectors was not impressed, neither with me nor the chief inspector—they did not view the changes as improvements.

As the result of pressure from the ranks and from my supervisors, in the final few months at that station I stood alone against the cadre of five lower ranking supervisors, my equal rank counterpart, my immediate supervisor, the top level manager at the port and the National Treasury Employees Union. That pressure was terminated only following my promotion to U. S. Customs Headquarters in Washington, DC.

My contributions to the Customs mission during my three and one-half years at that station are well documented, as are my trials and tribulations. However, I can state honestly that I hold no animosity for the three officers that stood against me in the final months of my service there. To hold a grudge against dead people would be an exercise in futility. All three have since passed from this vale of tears, trials and tribulations, either to that shining international port of entry in the sky, or to a climate warmer even than that of South Texas. I cannot be certain, but I would suspect that some of the older inspectors have also dodged their last non-overtime job assignment. More than a few were at or past retirement age when I left the station 27 years ago. Whatever their official status now and their location, regardless of whatever sphere in which they dwell, I wish them well.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

Postscript: I must acknowledge the fact that my immediate supervisor rated my final performance as outstanding, a rating that was reduced to just barely acceptable by his supervisor. That fact, however, cannot be confirmed. Shortly after the revised rating was submitted for entry into my records, I requested a copy—in the oft-used words by Gomer Pyle of Mayberry fame, surprise, surprise! The evaluation could not be located—it somehow had been lost between submission by the port and acceptance by Headquarters, either lost, misplaced or deliberately removed and destroyed. Who knows, and who cares? At this point in my life, not I!



 
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Posted by on October 4, 2010 in bridge, law enforcement

 

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Lift that thing up—if it’s not too heavy . . .

I spent twelve years working on the Mexican border at several locations as a Customs inspector, including assignments as a journeyman and as a supervisor first-level and second-level supervisor. As a journeyman in those years I conducted a goodly number of strip searches, and as a Customs supervisor I witnessed and assisted in another goodly number of strip searches. Most strip searches were routine and produced nothing, but some produced hidden contraband ranging from diet pills to parakeets, and narcotics ranging from marijuana to cocaine to heroin. Some strip searches revealed unusual body piercing and tattoos. Click here for a posting on an unusual tattoo, a rather large spider. There were other tattoos noted in that particular spot in other searches, but this is the only one that would have qualified for placement in Ripley’s Believe it or not! museum.

At the port of Progreso I and another journeyman inspector conducted a strip search on a young man in his late teens, and in the process found concealed contraband in a location that neither of us had ever found contraband before—or since. We had the subject ruffle his hands through his hair to dislodge any contraband that might  be concealed there, raise both arms to show his armpits, and bend over and spread to enable us to note any evidence of a body cavity concealment. Evidence of vaseline or other lubricant in that area could suggest concealment, and believe it or not, seizures have been made because the smuggler left a string hanging out to facilitate removal of the contraband—go figure!

Our visual inspection of the subject’s backside was negative, but when he turned around my fellow inspector told him to lift that thing up if it’s not too heavy for you. The lad lifted that thing up and a clear plastic pill box clattered to the floor. It had been sandwiched between the skin of his scrotum and that thingthat flacid thing—had kept the pillbox hidden from view. We did not measure the pillbox, but we estimated its diameter somewhere between one and two inches, about the width of a United States silver dollar, a coin that measures one and one-half inches—we speculated on that thing’s measurements, but we refrained from taking any measurements because they were not germane to our responsibilities as Customs inspectors—plus we were probably in fear of agitating it.

The pillbox contained several small white unmarked pills. We passed them around to all the other inspectors, including Immigration and Agriculture officers, but none could identify the pills. We confiscated them, required the subject to sign an Asset to Forfeiture form and later that day destroyed the pills and the pillbox in the incinerator.

The young man said he had been in Mexico for several days, just hanging out. He appeared completely disoriented, did not know where he had been or where he was now, and was unsure of where he was going. He showed every evidence of brain burn-out from using acid, the drug of choice for many young people—and some not so young—such disorientation was a common sight among acid—LSD—users in the sixties and seventies of the past century—shades of Timothy Leary!  Click here for a discussion of LSD and Professor Leary’s advice to America’s counterculture to “Turn on, tune in, drop out.”

We released him—the traveler, not the professor—and he departed the port area walking. My duty shift ended a short time later and I left the port for home. About two miles away from the port I saw the lad coming out of a deep irrigation ditch that ran at right angles to the highway. Thinking that perhaps he had an accomplice that may have hidden contraband in the ditch I stopped and asked him why he went into the ditch. He said that he was thirsty and went for a drink of water. I believed him but I subjected him to a pat-down search that proved negative, and I bade him farewell and God speed—no, I did not conduct another strip search.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 24, 2010 in law enforcement, strip searches

 

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A Rabbit with an attitude . . .

A Rabbit with an attitude . . .

While employed as a supervisory Customs inspector at the international bridge in Brownsville, Texas I worked numerous 4-12 evening shifts. When a spot was available, I parked in front of the Customhouse along an aluminum guard rail placed between outgoing traffic and the secondary inspection area.

On one memorable evening an inspector came to my office and told me that my car had been involved in an accident. It seemed that a tourist in an RV, a heavily loaded pickup truck with a slide-in camper, was somewhat unhappy with his inspection and was in a hurry to leave the area.

When the angry driver backed up to turn around in the inspection area, his rear bumper hit my rear bumper on the right corner at a 45-degree angle and jammed the left front bumper of my car against the guard rail. The conjunction of the two bumpers and their shapes, and the conjunction of the front bumper and the guard rail and their shapes, changed my car’s appearance forever. Nope, I never had the damage repaired.

The simultaneous contact of my car’s rear with the truck and its nose with the guard rail left my 1978 Volkswagen, a Panama Brown diesel Rabbit, in deplorable condition—visually, that is—the accident affected its appearance but not its performance.

The rear bumper was turned sharply up at its right corner, and the front bumper was turned sharply up at its left corner. Viewed from the front the little car resembled a snarling dog, the corner of its mouth turned up in a warning to something or someone, either animal or human. Viewed from the rear it looked like a dog with its right hind leg lifted, its foot high in the air in the stance a dog adopts when it urinates. Had the tourist hit the car and pushed it straight against the guard rail my Rabbit would probably have bent in the middle and wound up looking like a dog humped for a dump—that’s just speculation, of course, and a bit crude, but you get the picture, right?

I left Texas a few months later, headed for an assignment at Customs headquarters in Washington, D.C., and I passed my Rabbit over to one of my daughters. At the time she was commuting to work between Brownsville and Donna, Texas, a daily round trip of a hundred miles. A couple of years later I donated the Rabbit to the Salvation Army in McAllen, Texas with its lip still turned up in a snarl and its rear leg still lifted in that classic doggie stance.

At the time of our parting the little car had performed beautifully for 186,000 miles—the only maintenance in that time, other than routine oil changes, was the replacement of a broken fan belt that gave up the ghost at 100,000 miles. My little Rabbit did have a strange quirk, however. Its fuel supply had only one small strainer between the tank and the cylinders, and when the strainer became blocked the car would begin to slow down, and would finally come to a stop with the engine starved for fuel.

That is a subject worthy of a future posting, so stay tuned.

That’s my story and I’m sticking to it!

 
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Posted by on September 23, 2010 in bridge, cars, drivers, Humor, Uncategorized

 

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