My friend Laura came to visit from New York (again! Laura, I love you for coming down twice in one year), and we decided on a short getaway from the city to visit our friends Lorena and Jerry in (Santiago de) Querétaro. We took the bus from DF, which follows a highway that cuts through Hidalgo as well as Estado de México before entering the state of Querétaro.
Not sure where we got stopped, but it wasn’t too far south of the Policía Federal outpost you can see along that highway. The bus was pulled over and I thought, man I totally told Laura this was nonstop, what the hell. Driver has to pee. But then I saw the guy in the black federal uniform passing down the aisle giving people once-overs. He was older, but that’s all I discerned before I realized I should be deciding whether or not to avoid eye contact with him. We were seated around seat 20, about halfway back. He stopped at us.
“Documents?” (Yes, in English.)
I kind of clammed up. I do that a lot when people speak English to me here anyway, because it’s awkward to decide which language to respond in. Definitely Spanish in this case.
He hadn’t asked anyone else on the bus for documents. My legal conscience almost immediately yelled “RACIAL PROFILING” (which, yes, Mexican federal authorities are aware of and are supposed to avoid). But then my common sense took over to remind me that, in fact, we were not actually carrying the documents he wanted, and that yes, in fact, I believe we are supposed to.
“Passports? I need to see your visas.”
“Este… Están en mi departamento en el DF. Es que yo vivo allí, perdon, y mi amiga me está visitando, y solo vamos a Querétaro para visitar otra amiga y….” Shuffling for my Virginia driver’s license and handing it to him. Laura gave him her NY license. “Y… no traimos nuestros visas, perdon. Es que normalmente no llevo my FM-3 porque tengo miedo de perderlo…”
He was visibly annoyed, and I think maybe slightly concerned. For this I kind of held my breath thinking, “I think I think I think, maybe, I think he’ll let us go.” But he definitely wasn’t going to be happy about it. He repeated back to me that I live in DF, and I think also that Laura was visiting me.
“En proximas ocasiones los lleven. Es la ley,” he kind of barked. “Necistan traerlos en todas ocasiones. En otra ocasión si les falten, estuvieren detenidas!”
“Gracias…. Gracias.” I tried to communicate my sincerity without sounding like some weird Gringo-specific suckup to the other passengers. I assume there is a stereotype for that.
I seriously was pretty grateful. I thought about whether the outcome might have been different if we had been carrying Arizona licenses. I really have no idea.
Then a younger federal officer got on and started checking the credenciales of everyone on the bus from the front on back. He got to the guy next to us, who wanted to know what for. “Para verificación,” the federale answered. The guy was annoyed, but proceeded to get his card out. Meanwhile Laura and I were eagerly stretching our US licenses out to him.
He took them, looked them over, and then asked, also kind of concerned, “No llevan pasaportes?” I guess his superior had not informed him. Not again… It didn’t really connect with me that what the older guy had already said would stand, and I just sort of hopefully repeated my explanation.
He glanced at the ID the guy next to us was waving, then he looked at our licenses again, told us we always need to carry our documents, and made us get off the bus. He did say “por favor.”
Following him I hesitated, trying to decide whether to bring my purse. I left it on board, but brought my phone. I think Laura left her purse, too. He looked back at us, and we hurried after him.
We went through the same explanation again, even though they both had already heard it, and the older guy repeated his orders to us, that we always carry our documents in the future, still annoyed, and we got back on. The bus started going again.
I realized a little bit later that they hadn’t checked the IDs of anyone on the bus behind us, and I wondered. Did they possibly do the ID check on the passengers ahead of us to make up for a mistake? Had they broken the law initially, in singling us out without probable cause to ask for our documents?
As the critical man next to us was aware, I am pretty sure Mexican authorities are prohibited from requesting ID without a good reason, as in the US. Also as in the US, skin color or suspected foreign status is not legally considered a good reason.