Up Close and Personal with a U.S. Customs Officer at the Border

By on December 4, 2011


Migrant journeys in the desert



 Let There be Peace on Earth

by Peg Bowden for Arroya.org

•December 4, 2011 • Leave a Comment

This land is your land, this land is my land—-Woody Guthrie


He gives me eye contact as I walk through the US Customs Border check at the Mexico border. Tipping the scales at at least 275 pounds, he looks me straight in the eye as I greet him with “Buenos dias” on my walk back from the comedor in Nogales, Sonora. He is a US Customs Officer, a Mexican-American, and is laden down with his Kevlar vest, a breast shield, and an assault weapon layered over his dark blue uniform. Standing at attention with his rifle, sweat pours off his forehead. He motions to me to step toward him.


Quietly and gently he asks:


“So, what do you do over there?”, pointing toward the comedor in Nogales, Sonora.





                                 Your tax dollars at work—-building the Wall


So I tell him.

“We bring clothes, medical supplies, and a listening ear to the people that have been deported. There were sixty migrants waiting for us this morning.”

I continue to tell him that I am a nurse, and so take care of a lot of wounds and upper respiratory infections at a small first aid station. My Samaritan friends now join me in this conversation. Rarely does Homeland Security engage us in discourse, and this fellow is definitely reaching out. This is a special moment. I have so many questions, and can think of nothing to say. I am cowed by the weaponry, the uniform, and touched by his interest.

 Blessed are the meek

A Samaritan colleague asks the officer, “Why do you wear that?”, pointing to a thick breast plate. He invites my Samaritan friend to touch the breast plate, and the back plate too. The officer explains that he has over forty pounds of equipment and protective clothing. Pointing to the hills surrounding his station, he says,

“We are always being watched by the drug cartels. Always. I watch them. They watch me.” He is matter-of-fact about this.

 I gaze up at the mountains and see nothing.  Our officer insists they are there, probably hiding today, but often just standing on the hillside watching him. He tells us that the cartels check to see who is on duty for Homeland Security, and then decide when to smuggle a “load” over the Wall into the United States.

“Really? So some officers are easier to sneak by than others?”

Our officer friend does not answer this question.



  Jesus and friends—-some early migrants (mural at the comedor)


As we turn to leave, he says to us, “God bless you for what you do.” Loudly.

We are all stunned. I love him for saying those words out loud, within earshot of the other Homeland Security officers. As we continue our walk back into the United States, we feel a sort of camaraderie with this fellow, with his guns, his shields, and his watchful eyes looking toward the mountains.

It is so easy for me to fall into the clichés about Homeland Security:

“They are going to extremes.”

“They hate Mexicans.”

“They are not humane or fair in their treatment of migrants”

“It feels like a police state.”

 “They see things in black and white.”

“They play their macho role with their guns, their authority…”

and on and on and on.



Now I will remember Mr. US Customs officer, the man who asks God to bless us for the work that we do. He is Homeland Security, doing his job, safeguarding the peace. We are the peacemakers. It is never black or white, right or wrong, good or bad, but shades of all of it.



            Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me….


I will remember this encounter, and I smile as I walk the mile back to Estados Unidos.

About Linda Eckhardt

Linda West Eckhardt, is an award winning journalist, food writer, and nutritionist. Her more than 20 cookbooks have garnered prizes including the James Beard prize for the best cookbook for a text she wrote with her daughter, Katherine West DeFoyd, entitled Entertaining 101, Doubleday. Their follow-up book, Stylish One Dish Dinners, Doubleday, was also nominated for a James Beard prize. Their next book, The High Protein Cookbook, Clarkson Potter, remains a best seller after 12 years. That book was designed to accompany low carb diet plans. Her ground-breaking book, Bread in Half The Time, Broadway Books, was named the Best Cookbook in America by the prestigious IACP, The Julia Child award. Her award winning radio work with Jennifer English, for a national show on the Food and Wine radio network, was nominated for a James Beard Prize for a show called, “I Know What You Ate Last Summer.”