An Unlikely Friendship: An Immigration Attorney And A Border Patrol Agent

Aug 3, 2018
Originally published on August 6, 2018 10:38 am

In America today, communities are sorting themselves into like-minded bubbles. There are red teams and blue teams, where you're less likely to run into people who disagree with you.

Lately, immigration has been a flashpoint for debate.

But in the border town of McAllen, Texas, it's a part of everyday life.

Carlos Garcia is an immigration lawyer. Ben Wilson is a border patrol agent. Garcia fights to keep people in the country — some of the same people Wilson might arrest.

The two are nextdoor neighbors. And they and their children often gather to play on the Garcia's slide or sit down for a tea party. It's the kind of close relationship where the kids often forget to knock when they come over to the other's house.

Ben and Jacqui Wilson met as police officers in Indiana. Carlos and Elizabeth Garcia met as law students in Seattle.

Ben mans a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Carlos jokes that liberals like him refer to it as a "Constitution-free zone."

They moved next door to each other four years ago and realized they had kids the exact same age.

"Him being an immigration attorney and me being a border patrol agent is such a small part of us living next to each other that it's never even been a thought to me," Ben says. "As long as you keep an open mind and you're not so locked in that we have to be enemies because he's trying to save the people we arrest. It's not like that at all."

"I would say it's more complicated than just conservative or liberal," Carlos says. "I think we have a set of values, and I think so long as we follow that, it's easy to get along with someone who works in a field that for instance others would consider that is on the opposite side of me."

Spending time with them, it's fairly clear how they make it work. They don't discuss politics; they talk about their kids. They borrow the lawnmower or help fix the fence. It feels like what conversation used to be before national politics dominated everybody's social media feeds.

Their wives are on different parts of the political spectrum too. Jacqui's a Republican, Elizabeth a conservative Democrat. But they say that doesn't get in the way of their bond as mothers.

"We teach our children every day about respect, and I think that if we can emulate that in our lives, then certainly everyone else can," Elizabeth says. "That's the lesson we're teaching our children."

Between the two families, there's a new baby and a new puppy. On a recent Tuesday morning, they're all playing together, and it's hard to tell who belongs to whom.

The kids all sit down together for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and bacon. Ben sighs and says his kids will only eat blueberries when they're at Carlos' house.

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

In America today, communities are sorting themselves into like-minded bubbles - red teams and blue teams where you're less likely to run into people who disagree with you. Our co-host Ari Shapiro has been reporting from South Texas all week. And to wrap up his stories from the border, he sent us this postcard of two families that have managed to avoid the bubble mentality.

ARI SHAPIRO, BYLINE: There's an old Warner Brothers cartoon from the 1950s. A wolf and a sheep dog punch the clock.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "STEAL WOOL")

MEL BLANC: (As Sam Sheepdog) Morning, Ralph.

(As Ralph Wolf) Morning, Sam.

(As Sam Sheepdog) Have a good day, Ralph.

(As Ralph Wolf) Thanks, Sam.

SHAPIRO: They spend the day fighting, and then they clock out and go home. You could imagine them living next door to each other on a street like this one in McAllen, Texas, where kids just walk through a neighbor's unlocked front door.

BEN WILSON: We tried to teach them to knock, but it doesn't usually happen.

SHAPIRO: Ben and Jacqui Wilson's kids are in Carlos and Elizabeth Garcia's house. The Wilsons met as police officers in Indiana. The Garcias met as law students in Seattle. And professionally, they're kind of like the wolf and the sheep dog. Don't ask which is which.

CARLOS GARCIA: Like, technically I could be cross-examining Ben in court, right?

WILSON: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: Carlos is an immigration lawyer. Ben is a Border Patrol agent. Carlos fights to keep people in the country, some of the same people Ben might arrest.

C. GARCIA: One time I saw Ben at 3 in the morning at the checkpoint. (Laughter) I did see that.

SHAPIRO: Ben mans a Customs and Border Protection checkpoint 70 miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. Carlos jokes that liberals like him refer to it as a Constitution-free zone. They moved next door to each other four years ago and realized they had kids the exact same age. I asked if it was awkward when they figured out what each other does for a living. Ben didn't even pause.

WILSON: Him being an immigration attorney and me being a Border Patrol agent is such a small part of us living together next to each other that it's never even been a thought to me.

SHAPIRO: This seems so natural to the two of you living here in South Texas. Do you think there's something that people in other parts of the U.S. can learn from this?

C. GARCIA: I would say it's more complicated than just conservative or liberal. I mean, I think we have a set of values, and I think so long as we follow that, it's easy to get along with someone who works in a field that, for instance, others would consider that it is on the opposite side of me.

WILSON: Yeah, I mean, as long as you keep an open mind and you're not so...

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Locked in.

WILSON: ...Yeah, locked in that we have to be enemies because he's trying to save the people that we arrest, I mean...

SHAPIRO: Even just talking here in this room, you can kind of see how they do it. They don't discuss politics. They talk about their kids. They borrow the lawnmower or help fix the fence. It kind of feels like what conversation used to be before national politics dominated everybody's social media feeds. Their wives are on different parts of the political spectrum, too. Jacqui is a proud Republican, Elizabeth a conservative Democrat.

ELIZABETH GARCIA: We teach our children everyday about respect. And I think that if we can emulate that in our lives, then certainly everyone else can. That's the lesson that we're teaching our children.

SHAPIRO: Between the two families, there is a new baby and a new puppy. They're all playing together, and it's hard to tell who belongs to whom.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #1: Hi.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD #2: Hello. I'm a doggy.

SHAPIRO: The kids all sit down together for a breakfast of blueberry pancakes and bacon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: What do you want, bacon? Here, let me cut this up for you.

SHAPIRO: Ben sighs and says his kids will only eat blueberries when they're at Carlos' house.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: What do you say, Coco (ph)?

COCO: Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: You're welcome.

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

That's our co-host Ari Shapiro reporting this week in South Texas along the U.S.-Mexico border. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.