In retrospect, I was naive about the kind of agency CBP has become in the Trump era. Though I’ve reported several magazine stories in Mexico, none have been about immigration. Of course, I knew these were the guys putting kids in cages, separating refugee children from their parents, and that Trump’s whole shtick is vilifying immigrants, leading to many sad and ugly scenes at the border, including the farcical deployment of U.S. troops. But I complacently assumed that wouldn’t affect me directly, least of all in Austin. Later, I did remember reading a report in February about CBP targeting journalists, activists, and lawyers for scrutiny at ports of entry south of California, but I had never had a problem before, not in a lifetime of crossing the Texas-Mexico border scores of times on foot, by car, by plane, in a canoe, even swimming. This was the first time CBP had ever pulled me aside.
When asked to comment on specific details in this story, a CBP spokesperson responded with a canned statement replete with the sort of pseudo-military terminology that betrays the agency’s sense of itself not as a civil customs service but as some kind of counterterrorism strike force. “CBP has adapted and adjusted our actions to align with current threat information, which is based on intelligence,” the statement reads in part. “As the threat landscape changes, so does CBP.” The agency declined to put me in touch with Moncivias and the other officers named in this account or to make an official available for an interview, but a CBP source mentioned that the “port director” had reviewed “the tape” of the encounter. I found that very interesting, because I had specifically asked Moncivias and the other officers if I was being videotaped or recorded, and they had categorically denied it.