*Original story was published in the Tracy Press on July 28, 2009
Many years ago, when my husband and I came to the United States freshly after the Sept. 11 attacks, there was a knock on my Florida home at 4 a.m. I was alone at home with my two children — my husband was out of town on business.
The knock was a loud banging on the door, enough to make me want to dial 9-1-1. When I opened the door, I saw the front lawn of my house sprawling with FBI and Immigration and Naturalization Services agents, at least a dozen of them, with cop cars all over our driveway. I thought something bad had happened to my husband.
The officer told me he was an INS agent and that they had come to believe we were in the country illegally. They had orders to arrest and deport us.
I told them there was a mistake. I had worked for the U.S. State Department and had a valid visa for myself and family, in addition to the added sponsorship my husband had from his company.
They demanded to be let into the house. I let them in. They asked me to show our papers. I did. They searched my home, my kids by my side crying. When I asked to go to the bathroom, I was told I could not go. The sofas were turned upside down, my drawers opened and contents strewn.
After about 15 minutes of this harassment, I got mad and demanded they leave my house, and I was told if I reacted that way, I would be arrested for interfering with their job. They told me to tell my husband to “report” to the local FBI office and that it was illegal for him to be traveling without his passport.
I told them he was out of town, not out of the country, at which the INS officer raised his voice and told me: “If you leave your house without identification, even to go the grocery store, you can and will be arrested.”
Later, I found that was not the law at all and that the officer used that dialogue to intimidate me.
They took our papers and our passports and told me if everything checked out, they would be returned — otherwise we would have to pack our bags and leave the country. Even though this was years ago, the memory still haunts me.