Could I see your papers, sir?

A vehicle check point in Iraq, 2004.

Conducting a vehicle check point in Iraq, 2004.

Here in the U.S. the border with Mexico is a hot-button topic. I got a taste of that when I did a road trip while at the University of Texas, going from Austin to San Diego, and having to drive across a number of states that all share the border with Mexico.

Passing from Texas to New Mexico to Arizona, going east to west, necessitated passing through check points at each state demarcation line.

At one of them, the sunglasses-wearing, emotionless border guard wasn’t satisfied with my Texas driving license as ID, requesting “my paperwork,” which I don’t tend to carry around with me, and so then instructed me to pull to the side of the road for a secondary check.

I had to pop my boot and let them rummage around. I wondered if there’d been a spate of British-accented drug smugglers claiming to be graduate students that had  motivated the  guard’s suspicions.

To be honest, I felt pretty riled  by the experience–having to have my car searched by some random law enforcement official on the grounds that he could. Driving away, I remembered how we used to conduct vehicle check points in Iraq, pulling cars over and searching them and their occupants. That gave me pause.

At least we tried to be polite to the Iraqis, I told myself, compared to the automaton in the uniform that I encountered, who had a whiff of fascist-police state about him, and who I was relieved to see shrinking in my rear-view mirror as I accelerated away.