We recently flew with our girls to Costa Rica to visit my husband’s family, (check out our packing tips here!), and of course the trip was amazing. When we came back to the United States, we went through Customs and Immigration at the Houston Airport. My husband is constantly detained when we arrive to the United States, but this was my first time experiencing the detainment, alone, with two very small children. It was an epic adventure for sure… and here’s our most recent detainment story.
So, a bit of background: going through customs is always an adventure for our family for two major reasons:
- My husband is a U.S. Resident, not a citizen
- My husband’s name is the Hispanic equivalent to Joe Smith or Bob Jones
Point #2 is especially salient, as EVERY SINGLE TIME we go through immigration in an airport, my husband gets detained. Every single time. On this particular occasion, we had two options for return flights from Costa Rica: a 2 hour layover, or a 7 hour layover. My husband was pushing for the 7 hour layover in case something happened, but I was not about to sit in that airport for 7 hours. I hate waiting at the airport. (Side note, we hadn’t been to Houston for a few years, and it has definitely improved. Still, 7 hours in an airport with a toddler and a 13 week old? Not my cup of tea.) We optimistically went for the 2 hour layover.
As we deplane, we are dividing up the bags and kids to carry through Customs and Immigration. We’ll have Big Sister in the umbrella stroller (the only time we used it that trip, ironically) a backpack on my back, Baby Sister in the Bjorn on my front, a backpack on my husband’s back, the Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag strapped to his front. Perfect.
Now we drag our luggage-laden selves up to the counter to go through immigration, and the girls and I are cleared immediately. Phew. As my husband begins the process, the officer seems nice, and everything seems to be going well until I hear, “Sir, you are going to have to step aside and wait to be escorted…” Crap. At this point, I know the drill. We can’t touch or talk to him from the time he is detained until he has cleared immigration.
Even though I’m eternally freaking out when this happens because, in my heart of hearts, I know that we have ZERO power in this situation: my husband could be arbitrarily detained endlessly, or sent back to Costa Rica and not permitted entry to the United States ever again, I calmly take the girls over to the waiting area, and start to pray the Rosary, occasionally inserting in my own pleas. (“Please Lord, take us out of immigration limbo. Please Lord, don’t let us miss our flight. Please Lord, don’t let my husband be deported.”) Big Sister is pretty excited about a large tower of rainbow colored lights that are visible from the window, and I’m jostling Baby Sister to keep her quiet when I hear “ ¡Mami… guácala!”
Yep. Baby Sister projectile pooped a huge, mustard yellow glob onto the floor. (Amazingly enough, even though I forgot to ask our Dear Lord to not let the baby poop, He, in His Divine Mercy, did manage to help ALL of the poop land on the floor. Not a single drop on Mami or Little Sister. Not even on her onesie. I call that the Immigration Miracle.)
Now, this missile pooping power of Baby Sister’s had been discovered on our two week trip, and I had developed ninja-like diaper changing skills. Plus, I’d packed all the right gear in our awesome diaper bag, so no problem there...
The diaper bag.
It’s strapped on my husband’s chest and he’s being detained for an undisclosed amount of time in an undisclosed location.
Now, I’m really mad. Like getting teary and frustrated with the world. I mean, who detains a kind hearted man traveling from a neutral country wearing a flowered Petunia Pickle Bottom diaper bag on his chest and accompanying a woman and two small children? Seriously. They have his fingerprints. They have his photo. They have our address. None of that has EVER matched the Bob Smith same-name no fly list man that is supposedly on the terrorist list. WHY IS HE ALWAYS DETAINED?
I’m pretty solidly in the woe-is-me camp when I spot ANOTHER MOTHER WITH A BOB STROLLER AND A DIAPER BAG, also waiting for someone who has been detained. I’m not alone! This happens to other people!
Of course I immediately run over to her and shamelessly ask for a diaper and some wipes. (Side note: this is when I realize I am truly part of a sisterhood of traveling bicultural mothers.) She looks at me with the most understanding look and says “Of course. Take two. It might be awhile.” What I wanted to say in reply was… “can we be best friends?” What comes out of my mouth, as I’m being distracted by Big Sister, is… “Thank you so much!”
Yep, the toddler has to go “wee wee,” and she’s yelling about it from across the room. In Spanish. (Yep from across the room. Bad Mami, I had left her with the stroller and backpack and strict instructions NOT TO STEP IN OR PLAY WITH THE POOP.)
Ok, let’s review. I have a recently potty-trained two year old who needs the potty and an infant with a poopy diaper just waiting to blow-out and ruin what are potentially the only clothes that we have because Papi might get deported. And then I remember: THERE ARE NO POTTIES IN IMMIGRATION LIMBO.
I grab Big Sister, do the stand up diaper change while saying “you can wee wee in this diaper just this one time.” Then I lay the baby down, change her, and look for a trash can in which to throw the diaper. And then I remember: THERE ARE ALSO NO TRASH CANS IN IMMIGRATION LIMBO.
Just then, my husband rounds the corner and tells me “I’m cleared. Let’s go before we miss our flight.”
Me: “What do I do with this diaper? There are no trash cans. And there’s poop on the floor.”
Husband: “Ay mami, déjalo ahi. Esta inmigración es una mierda de por si.”
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