I unlocked my phone again to check the time, even though I already knew our departure time had come and gone. Our bus driver was still talking to the guys in green uniforms outside, then one turned so I could see the words on his back.
Oh. Border Patrol.
Anxiety rippled through me. The mother and son seated behind me had been speaking Spanish all the way here from Missoula—and I liked the the toddler boy. He would poke his head over my seat to giggle at me, pointing at the buttons on my backpack.
What’s Border Patrol doing in Spokane? We’re going to Portland, not Canada.
Two men boarded the bus, followed closely by our silent bus driver. They were clean cut, fit, and white. Guns hung at their hips.
One entered the aisle and announced loudly that yes, they were Border Patrol, and they were going to check the bus to make sure we were all citizens.
Didn’t I read an article about this? Is this legal?
A man seated across from me pulled out his phone and started recording, and an older woman at the front of the bus—several rows ahead of me—began voicing my concerns.
The man told her that it was legal, and she quietly asserted her doubts—our doubts. He said that according to some random numbers and letters that sounded like a law, US Border Patrol could search our bus, and that was that.
He turned so that I remembered the gun at his hip. Then he started walking.
“Are you a US citizen?” He’d stop and ask each person he passed. His partner stayed at the front of the bus with our driver, standing guard. But our driver had returned to her seat—I don’t think she was watching.
I tensed in frustration. I wished I could remember that article. Is this really legal? What can I do? Should I say something? What do I say?
It was my turn. “Are you a US citizen?” he asked me.
I glared. “Yes.”
And he moved on. I relaxed a bit after the woman behind me answered “yes,” but the man had more questions for her. It felt like forever before he moved on.
Eventually, I heard someone at the back of the bus say “no.”
“Where are you from then?”
He escorted the brown-skinned passenger to his partner at the front of the bus, then came back to the brown-skinned family seated behind me.
“Do you know that man? Are you travelling with him?”
They assured him that they weren’t, and he left them alone again. He and his partner left us, taking the Mexican man with them. Our driver closed the bus doors, and we pulled away from the station.
A wordless turmoil overtook my mind as it replayed the scene over and over and over again. I wondered where that man was going. I wondered who would miss him when he didn’t get off of our bus in Portland.
And, more than anything else, I felt ashamed for just watching it happen.