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From One Side To The Other

Cover image for podcast episode

We caught up with Jenn Budd at Las Americas mall a few months before the pandemic hit.

Jenn has become well known in the border activism world. Her criticisms of U.S. immigration policies and Customs and Border Protection are harsh, and very personal. Because Jenn; she used to be a Border Patrol agent herself.

Today, a story about a big perspective shift at the border. It’s also a story about how some people have to hit rock bottom before they change.

About the Show:
“Only Here” is about the unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border. The KPBS podcast tells personal stories from people whose lives are shaped by the tension reverberating around the wall. This is a show for border babies, urban explorers or those who wonder what happens when two cultures are both separated and intertwined.

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Beginning Clip
And the problem on the border is that people who live here feel an identity with both sides. And so that's why the border patrol ends up becoming so harsh and mean, and the government does is they're trying to control that, I think.

We caught up with Jenn Budd at Las Americas mall a few months before the pandemic hit.

Stereo Sound From Border Mall

That’s the shopping center that stretches along the southern edge of the U.S. The border wall is right there. It literally runs right along the edge of the mall’s parking lot.

And border folks were just doing their pre-Coronavirus thing…

Sound Beat/border patrol helicopters?

Shopping at H&M…

Eating at Taco Bell...

And ignoring the border patrol helicopters circling above.

Let Sound of helicopter play for a beat or two

This border has been the center of Jenn’s life for years now.

She’s always thinking about it. Always talking about it. She’s even working on a book about it.

She’s always Tweeting about it, too.

In July of last year, a tweet of Jenn’s critiquing the border patrol and its treatment of immigrants got over 35 thousand likes. And over 15 thousand retweets.

Sound Beat

Jenn Budd has kinda become a big deal in the border activism world.

Her reputation carries enough weight that actress Allysa Milano even had Jenn on her podcast called “Sorry, Not Sorry.”

Allyssa Intro Clip from jennonalysapodcast file
Kinsee will find another clip

Sound Beats/Transition

Music was blaring out of the speakers in every single shop at the border mall.

Stereo Sound From Border Mall

So instead of our coffee-shop talk with Jenn as planned,

Producer Kinsee Morlan and I ducked into Jenn’s car in the parking lot so we could hear her better.
Clip 42 from Jenn 2 Getting in car
Do you want to pop your head through or should I be in the back.
A book she’d been telling us about was sitting on her center console.
Clip 42 from Jenn 2 Getting in car
….Is that the book? Yeah. The politics of borders by Matthew Longo. it's so funny. They told me, write these books. I'm like, Oh no, look him up on Twitter. I look them up on Twitter and it's like, Oh, we follow each other. So it's kind of weird.
Even Jenn is sometimes surprised by her own influence in the border world.

Music Beat

From our spot inside Jenn’s car, we could see a giant american flag right by us.

And flapping wildly in the wind on the other side of the wall was a Mexican flag.

The scene made Jenn think of something from Matthew Longo’s border book.
Clip 42 from Jenn 2 Getting in car
But yeah, he was just, he's talking about the concept of why it becomes so militarized on the borders and stuff that the need to reinforce what it means to be an American and that you follow their rules and the people that live down here on the border. Don't necessarily follow their rules because they have dual identities, you know? So I think it's, it's kind of interesting. We'll see where it leads.
A border patrol agent was sitting in his SUV parked right next to the border fence

Just a few feet away from us.

And, ironically, just down the street from us that day, under a big white tent…

There were dozens more top-ranking Customs and Border Protection agents holding a big press conference.

They were announcing the completion of the expansion of the San Ysidro Port of Entry in front of local news cameras.

Meanwhile, there was Jenn...one of the most vocal critics of border patrol.

And while they were right over there celebrating..

Jenn was in her car just hammering them….
Clip 10 Jenn 2 Bad Training Creates Problems
you see so many border patrol agents still today, um, regularly violating the law and claiming that, you know, basically they feel like they can do anything as long as they're within a hundred miles of the border is kind of how they see it.
Her criticisms are harsh...and very personal.
Because Jenn…

She used to be a border patrol agent herself.

Sound beat

If things hadn’t played out the way they did..

She might be over there…. under that white tent…

Add beat

She tried hard to follow that path and it was just way too rocky...

Sound Beat

I’m Alan Lilienthal, and you’re listening to Only Here, a KPBS podcast about the unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Today, a story about a big perspective shift at the border.

Add beat

It’s also a story about how some people have to hit rock bottom before they change.

More after the break.

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It was an unusually hot winter day…

Jenn turned on her car and we rolled down our windows for some air.
********Clip 6 Jenn 2 Spanish Radio lessons
[nat sound of spanish radio] That stopped working, learning by listening to Spanish radio so I can work on my Spanish pretty good. I understand a lot of Spanish. I don't speak it so well. The verb conjugation gets me. I should probably study it, but I just, I get so busy, I don't have the time, so, yeah.
Jenn grew up in Huntsville, Alabama….
She says her childhood was clouded by physical and emotional abuse.
She says her dad was gone a lot, traveling for work, and she says her mom whipped her with leather belts.

She was also a smart kid, though.

And her way to deal with the pain was to keep her nose buried in her books.

She got through it and excelled in school.

Music Beat

Jenn was raised in a democratic family.

So she’s always leaned to the left.

She pictured herself growing up and maybe becoming a lawyer. Fighting for civil rights...or something noble like that.

So, when she went to college, she studied criminal science.

There, she found she had a knack for investigations.

She says she has this thing where she gets completely lost in information until she finds a way to make sense of it.

After Jenn graduated, though, she found herself back at her house.

Back with her parents and right back in the same abusive patterns.

So when she saw a way out, she took it.
Clip 4 Jenn 2 Applied for Border Patrol
And somebody told me, a family friend had said, the border patrol is hiring. And I had never heard of it. So, um, I, you know, Google wasn't around back then. I couldn't look it up or anything. I guess I could've gone to the library, but, um, spoken out an old encyclopedia or something. But when I interviewed, they just said it was like. drug smuggling and contraband and things like that.
Beat
Clip 5 Jenn 2 So I joined
So I joined and I went to the Academy and Glencoe in Glen County, Georgia.

Beat

Clip 7 Jenn 2 Had to Get Away from Family
I don't know if I felt that it was a right decision for me, but I mean, it was, it was kinda like I graduated at the top of my class. Okay, now what? So I had to get out of there, I had to do something. So it was just kinda like, you know, I didn't know if it was going to be a career career or if it was just a step or, you know, but it just was something that I had to. To do
Music beat

Jenn was fresh-faced back then.

She thought her new job would be about helping people and catching bad guys..like drug smugglers and p eople trying to sneak counterfeit goods through the border.

And she thought going through training with her fellow agents would build a tight bond.

Maybe she’d find that feeling of family and belonging she’d always wanted in her life.

But the reality was different.

Beat

When Jenn joined border patrol, it was in the mid 90s…

Operation Gatekeeper had just launched…

News Clip:
For the first time ever there will be a rapid response team to enable the border patrol to react quickly to build-ups at any particular border spots. ….. There is too much of it, and we must do more to stop it. Thank you very much.

A wave of immigrants were crossing the border from Mexico into the United States.

And back then, there wasn’t much in the way of enforcement or infrastructure at the border…

So Operation Gatekeeper was a federal program that beefed up security at the southern border big-time.

It resulted in a huge influx of federal funding that more than doubled the numbers of Border Patrol agents within just a few short years.

Operation Gatekeeper also included opening interior Border Patrol checkpoints, increasing detention bed space, building border walls and other infrastructure where there had been none.

But the program didn’t stop immigration. Instead, it just pushed the border crossing traffic out east to the desert, where Border Patrol said they could more easily catch immigrants.

In the decades since Operation Gatekeeper was implemented, thousands of migrants have died trying to cross through that desert.
Music Beat

At the same time in the mid-90s…

law enforcement agencies like border patrol started trying to get some women in their ranks.
It was the early days, though, so not everyone was on board.
Clip 8 Jenn 2 Need to Hire Women
….they would say things like, well, the government's telling us we need a woman. And I'm like, uh, you know, I don't want to be that woman….
Butt Jenn was that woman. And she says sexual harassment and abuse at the border patrol academy were everywhere.
You’re about to hear some heavy descriptions about what it’s like for a woman inside the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
We reached out to border patrol to comment on Jenn’s descriptions of sexism and harassment, and a CBP spokesman gave us a written statement saying, quote, “As public servants, the Border Patrol holds itself to the highest ethical standards.”
The statement went on to say that allegations of abuse and corruption are coordinated with the Office of the Inspector General and referred to the appropriate office for investigation, fact-finding, or immediate management action.
Jenn, though, says that system didn’t work for her.
She says border patrol suffers from a deep-rooted culture of misogyny and systematic sexism.
A culture she was introduced to right from the very start.
*****Clip 9 Jenn 2 Separated Men From Women And Set Negative Tone
But they separated us the first day they had, okay. They told the women, we need to talk to you about your hair and how to wear your makeup. And what size earrings you can wear and all this stupid stuff, you know, and why that had to be separated. We were like, what the heck is going on? And then some female agent came in, which was interesting cause we had not seen a female agent. And, um, she basically told us what was expected of us even though. She was in uniform and she was violating everything she was telling us. And um, and then she left that, she said we couldn't leave the classroom until the men came to get us. And we sat in there for like 30, 45 minutes. And our classmates, the male classmates told us later in the evening that what they were talking about is that they would told them flat out that women didn't [00:01:00] belong in the patrol. And the. We would accuse them of sexual assault and harassment and to be careful around us and careful who they dated and all that other stuff. And that women always filed fake allegations and, and would accuse them of rape and this and that. And if they ever had any problems, they could come to them and they would help deal with them and this and that. So that kinda set the tone for the men right there.
Jenn says the sexism was so extreme, that female agents offered new recruits a sorta DIY survival course...
Clip 12 Jenn 2 Describes Horrific Culture of Abuse
the women. Who were in the classes ahead of us, came to our condos at night to talk to us about what we could expect from being in the Academy. And they said, basically, you know, like every Academy has a bar on it because, you know, it's adults and stuff. But they said, don't ever, you know, take a drink from somebody that you're don't know real well. Don't ever, um. Leave your drink on attended because they will drug it. And I've since talked to Bureau of prisons, uh, officers who were training there at the time, and they said, yeah, their instructors would tell them, don't hang around the border patrol because they'll rape you and stuff. But that was pretty much. That's pretty much the synopsis of it is like your instructors that they ask you out on a date and you don't go, they'll fail you on your Spanish boards because those are oral sub parts of them are oral. And so therefore subjective where they're failing you on your] physical training. They tried to fail me on mine by one less than one second.
Right up until the end of training, Jenn says there was discrimination…
lots of sexist jokes..
and other things Jenn hated, but somehow tolerated.
But then, just a few nights before her graduation…things got even worse.
A lot worse.
Music Beat
One night, after grabbing a hamburger and beer at a bar…
Jenn started walking home alone.
One of her classmates followed her out of the bar and offered to walk with her.
Clip 13 Jenn 2 Describes Sexual Assault She Experienced
I said, no, I'm fine. You know, just walking across campus, no big deal. And he said, well, you never know. And I mean, you know, I guess as an older woman, I would, I would be smarter, but I wasn't smarter back then. I was 24. And, um. I said, okay, fine.
Music Beat
And we were just talking all the way home and to, to my condo, and we got to the back of it and he sexually assaulted me and, um, beat the crap out of me.
Music Beat
I fought back but didn't do much good and stuff. So, um, but eventually, uh, got, uh, a good kick in an d, and broke free. Eventually and, uh, made my way back upstairs.
Music Beat
*****Clip 14 Jenn 2 Didn't Want To Lose Job
My immediate concern was, is I don't want to lose my job because they would always, they told us that you, they didn't say like, if you're raped, you can't call the cops. They said, if you're, if you have any problems. We want you to come to us first. You know, because we, they would say it's a federal Academy. It's federal property. We prefer to handle it ourselves. Plus you got to remember, this was before cell phones were everywhere.
Jenn says she didn’t report the assault to the police or go through border patrol’s official process for reporting abuse.
So there’s no paper trail of the assault and no way for us to confirm the account. But Jenn did share some texts with an agent she went to the academy with that appeared to confirm her story.
Music Beat
Jenn didn’t leave border patrol after the assault.
******Clip 15 Jenn 2 Felt Like She Was Trapped
I kinda like felt trapped because. I couldn't go. I had no home to go to. I had no family, you know, backup with the situation of my family and stuff. And I think I still felt like this really can't be. Institutionalized, this can't be systemic. And I think being young like that, you don't understand how those things can happen. And I felt like I just need to get out to my station and I just need to prove to them how good of an agent I am. And then I'll be accepted, you know, of how hard I, I'll work and how hard I'll hike and how many arrests I'll make. And you know, once I have that badge and that uniform, I'm one of them. We're all family. But you're not.
Music Beat
After the academy, Jenn was assigned to Campo, a remote outpost right outside of San Diego.
Clip 18 Jenn 2 Describing Campo Outpost
Which back then was just one double wide trailer out there on the border and a one old cinder block with asbestos ceiling garage that had two cells that consisted of chain link fencing to hold migrants in.
Add beat
She was excited about the job.
She had recently come out as gay…
And she pictured a good life as a gay woman out in Southern California.
She thought for sure things would be better there.
She could finally get to work catching those bad guys….
But things didn’t get better.
Music Beat

Time for a short break.

When we come back…what made Jenn finally give up on border patrol...Stay tuned.
Midroll Ad

Sound: Cars Zooming by on freeway
Campo is one of those places you’ll just miss if you blink while driving through it.

The closest legal border crossing is in Tecate…the tiny Mexican town where they make the beer.

And the terrain around there is rough and rugged…

There are long stretches where the hills are so steep..

there’s just no way to build a fence…

So, people look for these gaps in the fence and cross.

And that’s where Border Patrol comes in…
Agents patrol everything from hot dry deserts to mountains as tall as 65 hundred feet. A lot of the patrol area is only accessible by four-wheel drive vehicles, ATVs or by experienced hikers.
Jenn loved that her job let her get outside most days..
She really liked hiking around…
Some days, she would hike for hours without seeing another human.
Music Beat
But back at the station, with her male coworkers…
She says the harrassment and discrimination were bad..
So bad she says she wasn’t even issued a bulletproof vest.
Clip 18 Jenn 2 Describing Campo Outpost
There were only like 50 agents there when I got there and there were two other women assigned there, but I was the only woman there. For a long time because they were always away on detail. So I was the only woman, they didn't give me a vest for like a year, cause they said they couldn't get a female vest up there in the mountains.
But just like when she was a kid dealing with abuse.
She charged ahead full force and just kept her head buried in her work.
But she says the harassment just kept coming and coming...
****Clip 19 Jenn 2 Resting Bitch Face
So, yeah, my very first training officer. When he evaluated me, he wrote down that he did not recommend me for retention. So he thinks they should fire me on my boards. And the reason why, and I never forgot the quote, was her facial expressions give me the impression she does not like me. So that's why I was supposed to be fired cause I had bitch face. You know. Yeah. So then I'm like, I didn't in, the supervisor brought me in and said, so what do you think of this? And I said, why is it my job to smile at him and make him feel good about himself? I said, I'm not supposed to be the cheerleader. I'm not y'alls cheerleader. And he said, well, maybe you have to be to be able to keep the job.
The way Jenn tells it…
The border patrol was a boy’s club.
Just totally immature and ridiculous.

Clip 21 Jenn 2 Poop In womens bathroom
I mean, I didn't even have a locker to put my gear in, but the guys all had lockers. I had, you know, one bathroom and every time I come in, it would be filled with poop because they'd go in there and poop when I was up there and just leave it there.
Jenn wanted to keep the job. So she kept showing up to work. Doing her job as best she could.

Clip 22 Jenn 2 She Took The Abuse Because She Was Used to It
They would tell me just to answer the phones at the station kind of thing. So I had ended up waiting for them to leave and then I'd just hike out to the border on my own. And. Walk around on foot and stuff, but you know, a lot of times where I just didn't get any backup, you know, things like that. So why you stuck it out in part because you didn't want them to win? Or was that part of it or, yeah. Really. In all honesty, it's like, because the abuse that I had when I was a kid. Was pretty violent and I just, I was just kind of used to that stuff
Music Beat
One winter in Campo...Jenn says her supervisor sent her on a field assignment.
She says he told her to look into a suspected drug smuggling route.
The supervisor put both her and the only black border patrol agent who worked at the station on the task.
But the minute the two got out to the fence, they realized they hadn’t been properly equipped or prepared for the job.
****Clip 20 Jenn 2 They Trying To Kill Us
So we had to go lay in the snow for like 13 hours at a time waiting for drug smugglers. And remember, I don't have a vest. And I remember he crawled up to me one night trying to stay warm because we're trainees, we don't have all the gear we're supposed to have because we can't afford it. And so we're just laying there and he's spooning me. And, and. Listening for anything we can, you know, come in through the brush and he says, they're trying to kill us. I said, come on. And he goes, thank God I'm the only black guy. You though he woman, they're trying to kill us. But we both made it.
So...the reason Jenn got into Border Patrol was to catch bad guys. And yeah, she did get to do some of that. But then there was this.
*****Clip 27 Jenn 2 Her First Apprehension
My first apprehension was a family, you know, the grandparents and the mom and dad, teenage kids. And a baby. And I remember thinking where were, where are the drugs? You know, I'm like searching their clothes and everything. Like in detail, trying to find these drugs cause they're supposed to be smuggling drugs. Right. So. And you know, especially in Campo, because when you apprehend somebody out there in the mountains, you're tracking them through the mountains and it sometimes takes hours to get to you, or it takes you hours to hike them back out to a road and you started to learn a lot about them and you start to listen to their stories and, and talk to them more in Spanish, in practice your Spanish. And. And so forth. And so then I started to understand more of what this was all about. the policies were more about keeping certain people out and not others. Cause I remember one night I, I had tracked this group through Tecate and I was up North of highway 94 on a mountain top when I found them. And it took a couple of hours for the transport to get out there. And one young man that was in the group spoke English perfectly. And so we were talking and while we waited and he had a law degree, and I was like, what are you doing crossing, you know? And he goes, you just don't get it, do you? And I go get what? He said, have you been to Mexico? And I'm like, no. And I mean, even if I had, I don't know that, you know, I just go down to TJ. It's not like I would. Learn all about what's going on in Mexico kind of thing. But in talking to him and you know, he was like, do you treat, do, does the border patrol treat Canadians like this? And I'm like, no, they don't. And he said, well, why do you think that is? And, and the only answer I could come up with was because the majority of Canadians are probably white, more educated than the majority of Mexicans coming across. then you start seeing how the government's okay with businesses, hiring undocumented workers and abusing them, and then when the businesses are done with them, they just call the border patrol to come and get them. And so then they don't have to, you know. Pay for anything if they're injured or so it's just like this system that's built for business and stuff like that.
Kinsee: so that moment talking to the guy, the lawyer who was crossing the border illegally, did that signify a change in your thinking at that?
Jenn: I think there were a lot of different changes, but then I think there's also the self preservation. Going on of needing a job and staying in it like a lot of agents still do today,
Self preservation... Dedication.... The discomfort of change...
Whatever it was, Jenn’s heels were dug in deep.
She eventually worked her way up to being a senior officer.
And before she knew it…
Six years had flown by.
Music Beat
But eventually…
The dissonance between her sense of justice and her day-to-day reality grew too loud and too disorienting...
*****Clip 25 Jenn 2 Didn't Believe In The Work Anymore
I said, you know, I don't even believe in what we do anymore. I didn't believe in what we were doing. Spending all this time, all this manpower, all his money, arresting people who are looking for jobs. And then when it comes down to the people who are smuggling the drugs or the people who are smuggling the people in, we never do anything. We never bring them to trial. We just grab the drugs or grab the people in the cars. And, and, you know, voluntarily return the people, sees the drug, sees the cars. Once in awhile we'd send somebody to jail. But that was about it. I said, you know, I don't, I don't believe in the system anymore. And when I do try and do good, that's all. The reason why I take these details is to be able to get the drug smugglers, to be able to get, you know, people smuggling girls in or whatever. To try and make a difference. And even when I do, they don't do anything about it. So I don't know what I'm doing here and I'm going to die out there for nothing.
Music Beat
So in 2001, after six years working for Border Patrol, she quit.
Music Beat
But leaving border patrol didn’t make Jenn feel good.
She says it made her more sad than anything.
*******Clip 30 Jenn 2 Suicide Attempt Damaged hands
When I left, I, I didn't leave cause I wanted to leave. I left because I felt like I had to leave
Music Beat
*********Clip 34 Jenn 2 It Was A Devastating Realization
It was just, it was so devastating,to have seen myself as this one type of person, this liberal, uh, civil rights minded person. And then to realize that I had joined an agency like this and had been able to just look past enforcing racist policies because of my own self interest of maintaining the job. You know?
****Clip 26 Jenn 2 Didn't Become An Immigrant Activist Until Many Years Later
I mean, it took for all the things I put up with in the agency and, and trying to do the right thing and constantly trying to prove myself. I mean, it felt, it felt so similar to like losing my family and leaving my family. And I. So, you know, I would like to be able to sit here and say, I left because I believe in the rights of migrants and the things that I say today. But I didn't come to that realization until many years later.
Coming to that realization, though, didn’t just take time.
It took Jenn hitting absolute rock bottom. And a quick trigger warning here, we’re about to discuss suicide.
Music Beat
When Jenn left Border Patrol, she got a job sweeping up in her then-girlfriend, now wife’s wood shop.
And one day, after an argument with her wife…
Jenn headed to the shop to clean up...
And she started thinking about everything that was wrong with her life…
Stuck in that relentless brain loop that happens in your worst moments.

There were plenty of sharp tools all around her.
So, without giving it too much thought, she did it.
Clip 31 Jenn 2 Tried To Kill Herself
I mean, I almost died. I tried to kill myself.
Some Musical Moments Here
Jenn says her mom threatened suicide a lot...
So it had always seemed like a viable option for her...
The details are very graphic and she didn’t want to share them.
But she’s got the long scars on her arms that show how serious her attempt was.
In the shop that day, she collapsed on the cold cement floor..
And she thinks that the cold actually saved her life by lowering her blood pressure long enough for her wife to find her and call 911.

Music Beat

Jenn stayed in the hospital for a long time.
It was there where she finally got a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, or PTSD.
All those years in border patrol doing things she didn't want to do…
All the harassment…
The sexual assault…
It all took a big toll.
As part of her treatment, she started writing about her experiences…
And…. it helped.
After a lifetime of pushing the pain away,
Jenn finally allowed herself to begin processing it.
Clip 33 Jenn 2 Started processing the trauma
And so I started writing about it and then I started realizing what I had done against my own values and how I believed.
Music Beat
She started a blog and wrote about her experiences there.
In part, because she couldn’t do much else since her self-injury was so intense.

She had to take a lot of time to heal.
Years passed.
Then one day in 2017, Jenn went back to read some of her writing from that time.
Clip 35 Jenn 2 Eventually Writing Led her to volunteering in migrant shelters
When I wrote about it and I looked back, I would say, I would say like what we were talking about, where say I talked to the migrants and I listened to their stories, and then I thought, what did you really listen to? Their stories?
In that moment, she realized she hadn’t really thought about the lives of the migrants she’d detained.
She really didn’t know much about them at all.
She realized she had some wrongs she needed to right.
Clip 35 Jenn 2 Eventually Writing Led her to volunteering in migrant shelters
And so I started to go down to the migrant shelter. Here in, uh, in San Diego and I started volunteering to do whatever it was I could, even though I have limitations with my hands. And I remember the first night, we were getting like over 300 people a day. It was just packed in there. And this was when they were holding them in those outside pins in Texas for weeks at a time in the same clothes, and the kids were sick and all this other stuff, and they were flying them from Texas to San Diego and dumping them here at the shelter.
Music Beat
********Clip 36 Jenn 2 Flashbacks to Her Days as a Border Agent While at Shelter
I remember seeing that CBP bus outside of the Gates of the shelter and watching the migrants get off and it just like all of a sudden, you know, like with PTSD has flashbacks and I had this flashback standing there and watching them that I always tend to stand with my hands folded, you know, with my bitch face going. and I noticed that as they, you know, the families walked up there staring at the ground, and sometimes they would look at me and then they quickly look at the ground if I saw them. And I just like flashed back to standing there in that green uniform like that. And whereas before, I'd be like telling them, shut up, sit down. Go stand in line over there. Don't look at me this, you know, just being hard, you know, and I unfolded my arms on purpose and I smiled at, you know, one of the kids and I said, welcome to San Diego in Spanish. And just the brightness of her face and just the smile that I got in return. And the thank you is just for, you know. Getting them a shower and some clean clothes and listening to their stories of what they're going through down in Guatemala and Honduras.
And so Jenn’s new life as an immigration enforcement reformist began.
Over the past few years, she’s continued volunteering for nonprofits like the Southern Border Communities Coalition that help immigrants stuck in San Diego or Tijuana. And she’s often on the phone or sending emails to senators, congress members and other politicians, begging people in power to pay attention to issues at the border.
And she uses her platform on Twitter to advocate for immigrants…
And to criticize immigration policies and border patrol practices….
*****Clip 37 Jenn 2 Is Using Her Whiteness For Good
They shouldn't listen to me just because I'm an ex agent or because I'm a white woman, you know? But that's unfortunately the way it is. So, I mean, as I say, you know, I'm gonna use my whiteness. I'm going to use my past border patrol experience to try and do some good in this world. So don't know if it's atonement but I certainly believe in atonement. And I feel like. You know, it's the same feeling that I had when I was an agent and recognizing that the majority of these, these migrants back when I was agent, the migrants that I was arresting day in and day out. We're nice, good people. And when I run their fingerprints, none of them are criminals,
******Clip 38 Jenn 2 I Expect Better
But yet we're supposed to treat these families so horribly and see them as terrorist and invaders and stuff. Yeah. I just, I'm just not going to do it and I just don't want to be that person that. When something like this happens in your culture, in your country, to be that person that says, well, well, it doesn't affect me, so why should I bother? Or to be that person who doesn't stand up and say, this is wrong
Music Beat
Clip 43 Getting Out of the Car
Can we hop out real quick and grab a photo of you in front of the fence? Yeah. All right. Roll up your windows first. Bring that….Is there a child’s lock on here? on here? Maybe. I'll let you out.
Music/Clip fade out
We circled back with Jenn after that pre-pandemic interview in her car by the border…
Because with COVID-19 in full swing…the border is technically closed to all non-essential traffic.
But the truth is, after a big initial drop at the ports of entry here, the cross-border traffic has picked back up. One thing that has slammed to a near stop, though, is the asylum process.
Immigrants seeking asylum here are being sent back to Tijuana and told to wait there until their cases can move forward. But very few cases are moving at all.
BEAT
Jenn is currently self-quarantined like a lot of us.
She has asthma, so continuing her in-person volunteer work with migrant shelters is on hold right now.
But she’s still as vocal as ever, bugging politicians and calling attention to border issues on Twitter and Facebook.
Right now, she says she’s keeping a close eye on the nearby Otay Mesa Detention Center, where the largest outbreak of COVID-19 among detainees in the country is happening.
And her biggest concern is that as long as President Donald Trump is in charge, the asylum process will stay closed…
and resources will be shifted so immigration arrests deeper inside the U.S. will increase.
Jenn Budd Update Clip 3 Use This One
I think as long as Trump is in charge, then he's going to continue to try and keep this going on. He's going to continue the, um, not accepting asylum and then he's going to start going after, you know, sending these agents to go after, uh. People who are within the United States that they haven't been able to get to before, and they have plenty of room in the ice facilities right now, um, to, to be able to load it up with as many people as they want.
Jenn Budd Update Clip 2
So it's very difficult right now in, um, in the immigrant community and fighting for immigrant rights.
Jenn says she’s using the pandemic down time to work on her book.
It’s an autobiography tentatively called “Untethered Soul.”
And it’s expected to be out next year.

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Show credits

Only Here is a KPBS podcast hosted by me Alan Lilienthal. It was written and produced by Kinsee Morlan and edited by Curtis Fox. Emily Jankowski is the director of sound design. Lisa Morrissette is operations manager and John Decker is the director of programming.

KPBS podcasts are made possible by listeners like you. Go to kpbs DOT org to make a donation or become a member today.

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Only Here

“Only Here” is about the unexplored subcultures, creativity and struggles at the U.S.-Mexico border. The KPBS podcast tells personal stories from people whose lives are shaped by the tension reverberating around the wall. This is a show for border babies, urban explorers or those who wonder what happens when two cultures are both separated and intertwined.