The following is a personal account of a former State Department employee who worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez in Mexico. Tianna S. must have joined the State Department in 2017, she was 25 years old. She was posted at the U.S. Consulate General in Nuevo Laredo in October 2018 according to her account. She departed post in October 2019, she was 27 years old. Her departure from the State Department was apparently called an “involuntary separation.”
Her account said she “was encouraged not to speak to the press about what I experienced and to steer clear of any lawsuit as it had the potential for serious repercussions against my government career.”
Who provided that encouragement?
Which officials at the State Department or post were aware about these incidents? When she was placed on involuntary separation, did the Bureau of Global Talent Management (State/M/GTM) and DGHR Carol Perez care what precipitated it?
If not, why not?
If yes, what did State’s top talent officer do besides sign off Tianna’s separation documents?
Via What’s Up With Tianna (excerpted with permission). Read the entire piece here: What do I want from white people? (An illustration on Being Black in America).
Her piece started with the death of George Floyd:
Your heart will pound heavily as George repeats “I can’t breathe.”
He will die face down in the middle of the street. You will watch another unarmed Black man die on camera, in cold flesh, at the hands of a white police officer. When the video finally ends, a feeling deep in your soul will tell you that the white police officer will not go to jail. Before you press play, ask yourself, how many more?
At one point in her account, she writes, “You ask, what is it like to be Black in America?” Then she tells us:
I drove my vehicle from my house in Mexico across the United States land border into El Paso, Texas at 2:30PM on Saturday, January 19, 2019. A United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) official flagged me into secondary inspection, for what marked the 17th instance of further inspection since I arrived in Mexico on October 26, 2018. The official inquired if I was a U.S. citizen, motive of travel in the United States, reason of visit in Mexico, and if the car I was driving was stolen. I sat on a cold bench and endured further questioning. I showed my Diplomatic Passport, stating I worked at the U.S. Consulate General in Ciudad Juarez, and lived there.
“Sure you do,” he laughed.
He probed, asking more questions. A new official appeared and searched my car, tossing around the contents in my backseat and glove compartment. He took his left hand and rubbed it up and down my car windows.
“I’m going to meet my friend in El Paso,” I stated.
“When you talk to a man, you look at the ground. Do you understand me?” He glared at me, face full of disgust. The officers laughed. My shoulders tense.
“May I speak to your manager please?” I asked.
The on-duty manager approached, crossing his arms, and asked, “what do you want?” I told him about my negative interaction with the previous officers. The manager laughed and asked the motive of travel into the U.S. I told him I was going to meet a friend for coffee and was asked why I needed to come to the U.S. to partake in that activity.
“I’m a U.S. citizen,” I reiterated.
When I told the manager that I worked for the U.S. Consulate General as a Foreign Service Consular Officer, he laughed, rolled his eyes, and said, “right.” Again, I presented my Diplomatic Passport, U.S. Passport, Mexican Carnet, and Global Entry Card. He laughed again and told me he did not need to look at my identification stating, “it could be counterfeit for all I know.”
Blood pumping. Small and humiliated. The manager never looked at my documentation, nor believed anything that I said, even with substantial proof. He went back in his office after obtaining my first and last name. Upon returning, he told me that I had only been pulled over to secondary about eight times so “why are you complaining?” I was bewildered and still am. I requested his name, only to be met with his reply of “I do not have to give you my name.” He later stated “you don’t need my first name.” His name was Officer Kireli.
When I reiterated that his account of the frequency of secondary inspection was incorrect, the manager scoffed, his team standing behind him almost mocking me.
“Just because you say you work at the Consulate, does not mean that you are not smuggling drugs into the country,” he said. Extremely frustrated and irritated, I asked how in the world I would be able to get top secret security clearance to work for the United States Government.
The manager then told me, “I do not know, but I do know what drug dealers and smugglers look like.” When I asked him to explain, the manager stepped forward, attempting to intimidate me, crossed his arms, looked at me up and down, and said, “you know what I mean.” I was furious at his insinuation that I was a drug smuggler and his racially charged implication based off of my appearance. I demanded an apology from the manager for the disgusting and unjust defamation of my name and my character.
The CBP manager took another step forward to stand on top of the platform that the bench sits on, positioning him to be a couple inches taller than me. He placed his hand on his gun, finger around the trigger, and told me to get back in my car.
I did not move.
Shaking, I requested Officer Kireli’s supervisor. CBP Supervisor Octavio Hernandez came out to secondary inspection, greeting me by saying, “I remember you.” We previously spoke on November 19, 2018 after a secondary inspection check. Back when I thought all of this was normal. Blinking back tears and struggling to maintain my composure, I was handed a CBP brochure by the supervisor and told to put in a complaint regarding the previous officer, but “no further disciplinary action would be taken against him.” At 4:05PM, upon exiting secondary inspection into the United States, I pulled over to the side of the road to collect myself and called my father, who unsuccessfully attempted to deescalate the situation and calm me down. I sat on the side of the road crying in my car until 5PM, took a deep breath, and did a U-turn, destined for Mexico. And there I was back across the bridge just eight minutes in the other direction, back home in bed, hands shaking to pull the covers over my head, talking myself into trying again tomorrow.
Between then and March 2, I crossed the border into the U.S. 12 times. I would be pulled over into secondary inspection another eight times. My colleagues would sit by their phones as I texted that I was approaching the border. My colleagues would wait. The rule was, if you didn’t hear from me in 15 minutes, call the Consulate immediately. Send someone to come get me.
I lived alone in Juarez. My only outlet was El Paso. It was where I took my dog to the dog park, did my graduate school homework in fun coffee shops like Mas y Menos and District Coffee, and went to the gym. The two baristas at Global Coffee always played the best music on Saturday mornings and asked me how I was doing. I had community. El Paso was where I grocery shopped, washed my car, and felt safe. The people smiled in stores and said hello. Sometimes people spoke to me in Spanish, delighted that I could respond. I felt at home and it was nice to have that small gap between work and home. I just needed to get to the other side of that border.
I tried everything that I could think of, from alternating between SENTRI/ Global Entry Lanes 1 and 2, from telling CBP officers at primary inspection immediately that I work at the U.S. Consulate and live in Juarez, to stating my intention for crossing at primary without even being asked, to crossing the border at different times during the week and weekend (early morning vs. afternoon), to presenting both my American and Diplomatic passports at primary, and even to changing my clothing to reflect professional attire. I removed sunglasses, glasses, hats, and scarves. I left an hour early for doctor appointments, only to miss said appointments and be forced to reschedule for weeks later due to being delayed in secondary by CBP, even with little to no traffic in the SENTRI Lane.
By this point, I was convinced that my difference of physical characteristics was so noticeable that the officers knew who I was. Before I pulled up to the computer system to show my SENTRI/ Global Entry Card, I could see the officer ahead reach for an orange secondary inspection slip. “Where are your license plates from?” “Hmm… that’s strange. We don’t have you in the system.” But how could I not be in the system? I crossed the border at least twice a week. To make matters worse, this wasn’t my first time crossing the border. I lived in Juarez. Surely the system had record and video of my car crossing the board since late October 2018? I even registered in person at the Dulles International Airport the previous summer.
What would take a person 15 minutes to cross would take me an hour and a half. I was asked if I had drugs in the car. I was asked if the car was mine. “Was I sure it wasn’t a rental?” “Why are you lying? Why are you really in Mexico?”
I developed a stutter. I could not look people in the eye. I was extremely on edge all the time and my hair began to fall out in chunks from the harassment and stress. I gave up and cut all my hair off. My voice shook when I spoke. The simple thought of driving to enter the U.S. would make my hands perspire and my heart race.
My white colleagues who crossed the border into the U.S. and lived in Mexico for two years had never been pulled over into secondary inspection. One told me he was always greeted with “welcome home to America, sir.” Some offered solidarity, others offered stories of their acknowledgement of their white privilege, others told me to not cross the border. Some offered to ride in the car with me to cross the border. But I needed to go alone. I was strong. One cried.
After five weeks of writing letters, emails, and solidarity from coworkers and management, I was transferred to Mexico City. The afternoon before the flight, I was pulled into secondary inspection for what I hope is the last time during this lifetime.
I was encouraged not to speak to the press about what I experienced and to steer clear of any lawsuit, as it had the potential for serious repercussions against my government career. I packed my bags, registered my dog as an emotional support animal, and we were off. I lived in a hotel for a month, then moved into my apartment. Something was still off. I found a therapist, joined a yoga studio, got weekly massages, tried to make the best out of the situation. I made two friends who often checked on me and invited me to activities outside of my apartment. On a weekly basis, I frequented a Japanese restaurant near the Embassy, where I quickly became friends with everyone who worked there. I made a vision board, read motivational books, and exercised. I befriended small business owners up the street at the nursery. I bought plants and watched them grow. I bought canvas and started to paint. None of that could counter what I felt inside.
I was later diagnosed by the Health Unit with post-traumatic stress disorder, major depressive disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.
Two days later, two CBP officials in El Paso viewed my LinkedIn profile. I limited my profiles settings and and deleted my profile picture.
My brother and I had the time of our lives exploring Mexico City in May. We went on walks, talked about life, ate ice cream for dinner, and even visited the fancy Pujol. A Michelin star restaurant in your 20s? No way. This was a life to be grateful for. We asked to see the kitchen and spent four hours laughing and tasting food we had never heard of before. Exploring another city with your little brother? This was so much fun. He stayed for a month. I could do this.
The LinkedIn profile viewing from CBP would continue until June. I went home for safety in June. Returned to Mexico City in July to an earthquake that shook my apartment violently as I unpacked my suitcase.
A close friend came to visit in August. I convinced myself and her that I could do it. Just two more years and then I would have my new assignment. We went to Tulum and I pretended to swim it away. When she left, August was a mess. By September I was hardly making it out of bed in the morning.
The unresolved trauma was getting me. Nothing I did worked. Mix that with the isolation I felt and the pressure to interview 100 non-immigrant visa applicants a day and you had a recipe for disaster. I kept trying though.
One day in early October, one of the applicants called me a bitch. Just straight up in Spanish, “you’re a bitch for denying my visa.” It was never anything personal, you know. You’d interview people of all walks of life, one interview would be jarring, and the next one you could potentially learn something new. I told her to have a nice day. She told me she was going to the United States with or without a visa. She gave me the middle finger and I apologized, quoting U.S. immigration law, and told her to be safe. I closed down my visa window and at 9:25AM, I told my manager I was going home for the day.
I crashed and hit rock bottom in mid-October 2019, realizing that I would probably kill myself if I stayed in Mexico. I said goodbye to my two friends, gifted them my beautiful plants, and returned to my parents’ arms in America. I was 25 years old when the job commenced and 27 years old when I left.
Read the whole thing here: What do I want from white people? (An illustration on Being Black in America).