One of the most interesting conversations with random ordinary Americans I had on this trip was with the Enterprise Rent-a-Car agent who gave me my keys. I won’t use his name because I don’t have his permission, but he was a fascinating person to talk to: a young second-generation American with immigrant parents and perfect English, proud to be working, and happy to chat with me about the politics of El Paso and his everyday interaction with CPB agents.
“What are you doing in the southwest?” he asked me, after hearing I was from Massachusetts.
“I came down here to see what I could do to help these refugees,” I said.
“Oh, wow,” he said. “Yeah, I can see those concentration camps from my apartment.”
“Concentration camps?” I said.
“Yeah, I don’t know a better word,” he said. “And I see those agents all the time. We rent to them, you know. They come here to pick up vans, and I see those vans full of folks they round up.”
“What do you think about it?” I asked him.
“It’s hard, you know,” he said. “We do have to stem that flow somehow. These migrants, when they cross the border illegally they’re all over. Getting in the way of traffic. Hanging out on the streets. I wish they would come over the legal way, like my parents did.”
“Were your parents asylum-seekers?” I asked.
“Oh no,” he said. “My Dad was American, he married my mom and then she’s got her residency. Honestly I worry about how these illegals might make it harder for her to get full citizenship.”
“Hmm,” I said. “Some of these folks don’t have someone in-country they can marry. They’re refugees, fleeing violence further south?”
“Yeah, I know,” he said. “But there’s a legal and illegal way.”
“Did you know there’s an international treaty that says an asylum seeker is protected no matter where they cross over the border?” I asked him. “And it’s part of our Constitution that we have to follow treaties we sign?”
“Really?” he said. “Huh. I didn’t know that.”
We talked a bit more, and found common ground over the notion that it was wrong to lock little kids up in camps. Of all the things I said, I think it was news of the Refugee Convention that stuck most in his mind. But the thing he said that stuck most in mine was that Enterprise Rent-a-Car was in league with the US government, a government that was engaged in, from what I could tell, crimes against humanity at worst, human rights violations at best.
For the rest of my visit, whenever I popped in at Paso del Norte Detention center, I couldn’t take my eyes off the vans (which you can see in the background on the photo in my earlier post). I would park my own Enterprise-rental in the public parking just outside the facility, just outside the barbed wire, and walk up to talk to the guards.
Three times I visited there. Once I saw folks loading up vans inside. Another time, while I was talking to the agents at the fence, I watched vans arrive with handcuffed children in them. The third, while waiting for the guards to come talk to me, a van pulled up and I tried to interact with the drivers. But they didn’t have long to talk. “We’ve got folks in this van we’re bringing in,” the driver said. “You’ll have to talk to a Public Affairs Officer.”
“Are any of them kids?” I asked. They wouldn’t reply.
I never did get a chance yet to follow up with that young Enterprise agent, though as we said goodbye I told him I’d love to buy him a beer after work sometime, and maybe I’d see him again on my way back through the airport. But he did get me thinking about Enterprise. On the one hand, I was happy I’d rented with them because if I hadn’t I’d have missed the chance at this great twenty-minute political conversation with this complicated young fellow with his candid opinion and perspectives and his street-level view of what was going on both through his workplace and out his apartment window. On the other hand, by renting with them I was as much a participant in the concentration-camp-industrial-complex as he was, though he hadn’t though much about it that way.
Readers: if you were to fly down to El Paso for the big protest next Monday, who would you rent with?