Beyond the Wall: Guardians at the Gate

FINDING BALANCE AND EMPATHY ON A DEEPLY PERSONAL LEVEL

There is no such thing as a typical workday on the U.S./Mexico border. “It’s always a different scenario,” says Jazzma Rainey ’16 (MS). She would know; she’s been working for U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) for 16 years.

Recently promoted to supervisor, Rainey says the job has always required officers to be on high alert. “It’s never the same. There’s always a new plot, a new plan,” she says. It’s important to note that Rainey stresses that all of her commentary about her job is personal observation, not CBP policy.

USD alumna Jazzma Rainey

Jazzma Rainey ’16 (MS).

“Vigilance is one of CBP’s core values. But given the heightened political controversy along the southern border, our environment has become increasingly dangerous. Although we’re trained to carry out our duties with the utmost professionalism, in concurrence with civil rights laws, officer safety is paramount.”

That’s because the job itself has an element of real danger. “Oftentimes, rocks are thrown at officers, children are used as shields, weapons are carried by those who are determined to get into our country at all costs,” she says. “When crossing the border has a detrimental effect on the safety and quality of a person’s life, they can become desperate.”

CBP works closely alongside the Border Patrol; both entities are under the umbrella of the Department of Homeland Security. “We work on the front line,” Rainey explains. “Ours are the first faces you see when you enter the U.S.”

When asked about specific memories over the years, Rainey pauses. “During the Haitian migration influx in 2015, the facilities were crowded with asylum seekers. At that time, I realized the power of healing in diversity. “

That experience still resonates. “The little Haitian girls would speak to me in French — although I don’t speak French — and engage with me a little more than the other officers because they felt a sense of comfort and familiarity. Some had looks of shock of seeing someone with hair like theirs, skin like theirs, and facial features like theirs in a CBP facility, oceans away from everything they’d ever known.”

Interacting with those kids had a big impact on Rainey. “I love children. A simple smile and a little extra compassion to those who are most vulnerable is powerful. Seeing those little girls light up when I came to their area gave me a sense of purpose. That was a defining moment for me. It highlighted the humanitarian aspect of my job.”

When asked about the need for a border wall, Rainey takes a moment.

“The U.S. is definitely in need of immigration reform and a strategy to increase the efficacy of border security,” she says. “But according to public data and statistics, the majority of illegal immigrants are not climbing walls.” — Julene Snyder

Read our complete border story package, Beyond the Wall

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