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Friday, July 19, 2024

PERSPECTIVE: A Border Patrol Agent’s Illegal Father and the Lesson of a Lifetime

This piece represents the views of the author and not U.S. Customs and Border Protection or the Department of Homeland Security

An interesting thing happened to me the other day. One of my neighbors asked me if the hateful rhetoric against Border Patrol agents ever discouraged me to the point of wanting to quit. My neighbor was surprised by my reaction. I considered his question and smiled as I began to tell him of the why and how I know in my heart that I could never hurt any illegal alien unless it was in self-defense or to save the life of another person.

I did inform him that members of the Democratic Party demonizing us to the very public we swore to protect is demoralizing and does hurt every single agent in the field. In doing so, I felt the need to explain why that was and ultimately allow my neighbor to learn more about me and how so many more agents have a similar story to mine. I chose to tell him of the first time my father had seen me in uniform.

Something unexpected took place when I first moved back to the city of Weslaco, Texas. I went to go visit my dad (grandfather). I wanted to spend some time with him, and I was curious to know what he thought of my new job.

My mother was supportive but also a bit concerned. She was still living in Reynosa, Mexico, at that time, and she wasn’t too sure how to address my new employment. Could she talk about it with her friends or was the topic completely off limits? What would her friends think of the fact that her only son’s new job was to catch and deport Hispanics who were living in the United States illegally?

I had not considered what my family would think about my choice in career. Living so close to the border and still having family living in Mexico made things a bit strange. In general, everyone was happy that I was finally going back home. My time in the Army had kept me away from the Rio Grande Valley for 12 years. They just had mixed emotions about the job I now had. They were proud but a bit hesitant to be “excited” about it.

The day I visited my dad, I showed up in my Border Patrol uniform; I wanted to surprise him and also see for myself what he thought of my new job. He still lived in the same small house where he and my grandmother had raised me. I found him watering his small garden as I pulled into the driveway. He stopped momentarily to see who had arrived and began to smile once he realized it was me. I opened the door to my truck, got out, and began to walk toward him.

His smile slowly became something else. Something I had never seen on him. It wasn’t sadness, it wasn’t fear, and it surely wasn’t amazement.

I had truly never seen or expected that look on my dad’s face, yet he slowly regained his color and his smile as I reached him, hugged him, and gave him a kiss on the cheek. As our embrace broke, he asked me to sit down, and I helped him onto his rocking chair prior to sitting down myself.

“Are you OK, Dad?”

“Yes, son, but I remembered so many things when I saw you in uniform.”

That was strange to me. I didn’t recall my dad ever telling us any stories of dealing with the Border Patrol when he was young. We all knew he had initially entered the United States illegally but then did what was required to obtain his resident alien status to be able to live and work here without fear of ever being removed back to Mexico.

“What memories, Dad?”

He looked at me as if trying to determine whether or not he should tell me about the memories I had stirred up for him. It was a long, quiet moment, and I could tell he was struggling with his decision. My dad had always been a man of few words, but I had never seen him struggle with words.

He began to rock back and forth on his rocking chair as he began to tell me about his younger years as an illegal alien. He told me he would enter the country illegally once every two weeks or so. He said that most of the Border Patrol agents he ever encountered or that ever arrested him were fairly nice. He talked about how none of the agents had ever given him reason to fear them, yet he always felt terrified whenever he was caught.

“They knew I was only coming to work,” he said. “Some of them already knew me and would call me by my name whenever they saw me.”

He talked for a long time about how he would have to use different spots along the Rio Grande to swim across and enter the country. He did so in an attempt to find the unguarded areas and be able to come work.

“Every day they caught me was a day lost. And every day lost was a day without money to eat.”

As he continued to tell me his stories, tears began to roll down his face. He choked up a few times with his words yet wouldn’t stop talking. It was as if he needed to get those things off his chest. As if he had held on to those memories all his life and finally found an outlet to relieve himself of them.

“They never treated me bad. It was like a child’s game, a game of hide-and-seek,” he continued. “I always feared the Border Patrol. They were much taller than I was and would always carry their big guns. I was also afraid because the smugglers would always tell us that we would be beaten and possibly killed by the Border Patrol if they ever caught us. They would tell us that the Border Patrol hated Mexicans.”

He stopped momentarily to wipe his tears away and regain his composure. I took the moment to get him a glass of water from inside the house. It seemed so much smaller than when I was living there. Walking into and then back out of the house was such a surreal moment.

He looked up at me as I handed him the glass of water and smiled. In that instant, I remembered our short drive on the day he had bought me my first car. I saw that same sense of ease and amazement that I had seen all those years ago when I was just 17. I was so ready to break down in that instance. I held it together.

As I sat back down, he drank some water and then leaned toward me. He placed his glass of water on the ground and grabbed my hands.

“I’m proud of you. I tell you these things because I saw you grow up and know that you will be just as kind as those officers that would catch me,” he said. “I also know that you traveled the world while in the Army and yet you never forgot your roots, where you come from.”

All the things I had ever encountered in my life up to that moment had never prepared me for the immense flow of emotions that ran through me in that instant.

I broke down along with him as he continued to smile at me. Images of us picking crops in Michigan ran through my mind. Memories of cold mornings, picking oranges and grapefruit in the Rio Grande Valley, surfaced as well.

The many days and nights of missing my mother while I was here and she remained in Mexico, struggling to survive on her own. I looked at our house, such a tiny house; how could eight of us possibly live and be raised in that house?

I was shaking as I turned back toward my dad. His loving smile was still beaming brightly on his face. This frail yet strong man who had forced me to learn so much at such a young age. This man who had instilled his work ethic in me.

He, too, had struggled for his kids to live a better life than his own. He, too, had broken the cycle from his own parents by taking so many chances in coming to the United States. He, too, had left his parents and siblings behind in search of something better.

As poor and humble as we had been throughout all those years, he had found that better life. Seeing him in that instant, I finally realized this, and I believe that, seeing me in uniform at that moment, he, too, finally realized it.

All my life, I had fought hard against my entire family to do more, to leave the house and my hometown to see if the world had a better life to offer. All that time, my grandparents had been doing the same thing. I was – no, I am my grandfather’s youngest son, and I am exactly like him.

This revelation was excruciatingly overwhelming. My grandfather, my dad had been one of the strongest people I had ever known. He had fought me on so many things while I was growing up. He had placed so many obstacles in front of me, and I had always found a way to overcome them. All the while he was preparing me for the struggles that lay ahead of me.

To say that I am forever grateful is an understatement. All those years, I thought I was looking at someone and seeing flaws that I wanted to overcome or improve. It turned out that I was seeing someone I wanted to emulate; I wanted to be exactly like him and I had achieved it!

Thank you for the lessons Dad. I love you and miss you very much. And Dad, I’m proud of you, too!

The views expressed here are the writer’s and are not necessarily endorsed by Homeland Security Today, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints in support of securing our homeland. To submit a piece for consideration, email [email protected]. Our editorial guidelines can be found here.

Sergio A. Tinoco
Sergio A. Tinoco
Sergio A. Tinoco is the author of Proud American: The Migrant, Soldier, and Agent and has joined HSToday as a columnist to provide insights and facts about the conditions, challenges, and humanity of the situation on our southwest border. Tinoco started his journey to America as a poor migrant worker of Mexican descent, having to pick crops for a living from the age of 7. As a way to break from the family cycle of farm labor and depending on government welfare programs, he joined the United States Army and served 10 years on active duty. He deployed to Bosnia-Herzegovina shortly after the Bosnian War only to find and deal with the aftermath of the genocide that took place there and be caught in the middle of several attacks. His experiences in Bosnia ultimately led to experiencing signs and symptoms related to PTSD. After completing 10 years of military service, Sergio joined the U.S. Border Patrol. Being of Mexican descent and having family in South Texas and in Mexico introduced new issues of having to counter threats against his family and ill-willed opinions of him for arresting and deporting “his own kind.” He is currently serving as a Border Patrol agent, and all observations and columns are his own and not endorsed by CBP or the Border Patrol. Sergio A. Tinoco was born and raised in Rio Grande Valley, commonly known to them as RGV. As a child, he had gone through many struggles. Having to come up with a big decision to leave his family behind at such a young age, Sergio began to live a dangerous life in the battlefield with the US Army. Between the Army and the DHS, he has worked in government service for over twenty years. He earned a master’s degree in organizational management. His wife, also a military veteran, works for the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Together, they strive to provide greater opportunities and aspirations to their kids.

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