Mayela is visiting us from Mexico. In Puerto Vallarta, we hired her last fall through an agency to play and speak Spanish with Elizabeth a couple of times a week after school. Pam took a special liking to her and invited her to join us in the mountains for a few weeks.
So now she's here, bunking in the trailer like all our guests. It's her first time in the U.S. To get here, she had to fly from Vallarta to Dallas, then catch a connecting flight to El Paso, where Pam drove to meet her for the two-hour drive to Ruidoso.
I was worried about how things might go at the Border Patrol checkpoint about a half hour north of El Paso. They always ask us if we're U.S. citizens and then wave us through. Now, I fretted, Pam's going to say no and point to Mayela, and then they'll also notice our Jalisco license plates and then the sniffer dogs will snap to defcon 3.
But it turned out the heartburn was actually in Dallas. When Mayela handed over her passport and the visa she'd had to travel six hours to Guadalajara to apply for, a 30-minute interrogation ensued regarding who bought her ticket, how much money she was carrying, how she planned to pay the expenses of her visit, where she was going, etc.
The agent wasn't satisfied with her answers and escorted her to a room, where she sat for the best part of an hour with other bewildered and anxious detainees. Finally another agent called her out for a few more surly questions and then abruptly told her she could go. By that time she was in danger of missing her El Paso connection but ran all the way to the gate and just made it.
So, welcome to the land of the free and the home of the brave, except that's not really the face we're turning toward our southern neighbors these days.
Mayela's story didn't really surprise us very much. But since she arrived we've all been a little stunned by the escalating fear and fury now being directed at the Honduran and Guatemalan children crossing the border and throwing themselves on the mercy of U.S. immigration authorities.
It isn't the opposition to admitting these kids that's deplorable. Reasonable people can differ over exactly what should be done with them now that they're here. It's the nasty and irrational tone of the vigilantes who gather, some with guns, to deny temporary sanctuary in their towns to these refugees.
Most of the protestors are probably nice enough people who may have the grace to be embarrassed some day by what they're saying and doing on cable news. But for now, they seem to have convinced themselves that their government is giving up the country to an army of conniving little Artful Dodgers intent on stealing a golden ticket to the good life.
I wish they'd spare a moment to reflect on what it would take to make them send their own children off alone to run a thousand-mile gauntlet of drug dealers, sex traffickers and other predators for the off chance of gaining access to the homelessness, unemployment and the ever-more-niggardly public assistance that await them in an unfriendly distant land.
I'm sure they'd realize that it would take more desperation than they've ever seen in one place themselves, that their own homeland would have to be a hellhole of dead-end misery to make them do it.
And I'd like to think that if they achieved this degree of insight, the hand they extended toward these vulnerable and innocent fugitives on their doorstep would be gentle, even if for most of them the hand may turn out to be empty.
Mayela goes home next week to get ready for her next year of college. She has a good home, a stable family and hopes for a career in psychology. Her country is no hellhole, although judging from a couple of hair raising stories she's told us from personal experience, she has no illusions about it.
Thanks to her border crossing and her glimpses of recent headlines, she now has fewer illusions about our country too.