The Brown Man collapsed. Tan dust rose up in plumes from the desert ground. He sucked at the speckled air with stiff and halting gasps. All the muscles in his body were tired, especially his legs. He struggled to gather himself and get moving again. On this last trip he’d barely been able to get across the river. Years of wandering had left him thin and ragged and weak.
The sharp edges of small rocks cut painfully into his kneecaps as he pushed himself up. He knelt quietly and looked out at the unadorned hills. The dry air scraped his tongue and throat as he inhaled. He was thirsty. Beads of sweat dripped from his forehead. Falling to the earth, the drops slowly sank into the ground. He watched as the sweat turned the dirt the color of blood.
Farther down the hill a dozen other Travelers lay hidden amongst the brush.
“I need some water,” said one of the men.
“Here, take this, you can drink from it,” said the Brown Man from his knees. He took a bottle and some food from his pack and tossed it down the hill.
The Brown Man’s head fell into his hands as he centered himself. He felt his neck squeeze and tighten as he swallowed. He knelt quietly for several minutes, staring out at the horizon and the sky. He could see the river, silver and winding, reflecting the light of the moon. Tears began to creep into his eyes. He looked up at the stars.
Breathing in deeply through his nose, he raised one knee and pushed up firmly on it with his hand. As he started walking down the hill toward the Travelers he saw that many were asleep.
“Get up!” the Brown Man scolded. “Can’t you stay awake? You need to keep watch.”
The Travelers stirred. Their eyes searched the darkness. A breeze came up and died away. Far away a low hum began to move closer. The Brown Man looked to the west. The lights of vehicles began to appear and disappear over the hills. The hum grew louder until it became a drone of exhaust and engines. Spotlights illuminated the hillsides. Soon the Travelers could make out the men in the dark bulletproof vests standing on the sides of the black trucks.
“Hide! Get down!” said one of the Travelers in a low growl.
“We should run. Let’s go!” another said to the Brown Man.
“It’s too late.” The Brown Man stood still.
The black uniforms and black trucks blended against the night. The Brown Man could make out the headlights and the bright white letters on the uniforms. A spotlight burned sharply into his eyes. The trucks approached and more dust rose as the rubber of the suddenly motionless tires ground against the rocks and sand. The Brown Man stood still as he adjusted to the light. Agents in black uniforms climbed down from the trucks yelling, “Get in a line! Hands up! Levante los manos!” The Agents pointed their automatic rifles toward the Travelers hiding in the brush. The Travelers rose and formed a line. The Smallest Man of the group was the last to settle. He stood beside the Brown Man.
The Commander of the Agents paced along the line. “Who’s in charge fellas? Quien es el jefe? Who brought you across? Step on out. You’ll all get sent to the facility, but the leader is the only one who needs to go to jail.”
The Commander stopped in front of Smallest Man. The Smallest Man fidgeted nervously, licking and pursing his lips. His eyes darted around quickly, back and forth toward the Brown Man. The Commander breathed in deeply, pushed out his chest, and raised his chin. The Commander stepped to his left.
“You…you’re their leader, right?” he said, now staring directly at the Brown Man. “You brought them across.”
A breeze blew softly through the night. Flecks of dirt settled on the Agents’ boots. The Brown Man and the Commander stood facing each other. The Commander’s eyes and face fixed forward like steel.
“You don’t have anything to say? Where are your papers?”
The Brown Man felt small particles of sand filtering through his nostrils. The Commander stared coldly for a moment, then moved back in front of the Smallest Man.
“Is this guy in charge? Is he the one that brought you across?” asked the Commander, nodding his head toward the Brown Man.
“He’s the one we’ve been following,” the Smallest Man said, lowering his eyes.
One of the other Travelers screamed, “Mentiroso! Cobarde!” He charged the Smallest Man. Two Agents caught him as he flew forward in a rage. Spit flew from the attacker’s mouth as he shouted again, “Cobarde!” He fought and swung as the Agents wrestled him to the ground.
“Stop,” said the Brown Man, “enough fighting.”
“Load ‘em up,” said the Commander.
The bench in the courtroom was beige and hard and uncomfortable. Half a dozen men sat in a row in orange uniforms. The Brown Man wore a purple uniform with the word “immigration” printed in white letters across his chest. At the tables, men and women in suits opened and closed folders and shuffled through papers. A large man with a round face and greying, curly hair rose from the table closest to the prisoners. He was a tall man, solidly built with long legs. Still, he walked slowly, like the air resented his progress. His stomach bulged out beyond his belt, exposing the wrinkled shirt under his sports coat. He settled himself in front of the prisoners and straightened his tie.
“I am the head of the Public Defender’s office. Me or one of my associates will be representing you. Today the Magistrate is going to set bond in your case. We’ll come around to you individually. We need to know if you have any ties to this area, whether you have family here, a job, a house, how long you’ve been here, and if you have cases somewhere else, then let us know.” The Defender went back to the table. Other lawyers took clipboards and paper and spread out amongst the men.
The Brown Man sat quietly. The shiny metal of the handcuffs dug into his wrists. Around his ankles he could feel a gash wearing into his skin from the steel rings. Then, like a rock falling into a pond, the Defender sank into a chair beside the Brown Man.
“I was wondering when you would come through. The Prosecutor says you are the one they’ve been looking for.” The Defender looked intently at the Brown Man.
“Who do they say that I am?” asked the Brown Man.
“Well, I’ve heard that you are the one who brings people safely through the desert, the one who gives them water and food, the one who gets people across.” Then the Defender looked up and over to the other side of the room. He pointed to the other counsel table, toward a short man of sharp lines. Slick black hair was carefully kept around his angular face. The edges of his gray suit fit squarely and tightly around his body. From across the room, the Brown Man could see his black, ambitious eyes. “But that man, the Prosecutor, he says you are a criminal. He says that you are guilty of violating the law.”
The Brown Man stared across the room. “So, that is what they say.”
The Defender sighed and slumped his shoulders. “Today the Magistrate will set your bond. I will ask the court to let you out of jail. But the Prosecutor wants to make an example of you. He’s going to charge you formally with human trafficking. It means that you transported people somewhere illegally. There is a statute with certain elements that the Prosecutor has to prove. I don’t think he can. We’ll get to that later. For now, I just need proof that you are a citizen so we can get you a lower bond. Do you have any proof of residency?”
The Brown Man looked at his lap, then at the Defender. He smiled and tugged at his clothes. “I’ve been in the desert for years. When they arrested me, they took my clothes and gave me this to wear.”
“Well, are you from around here? Do you have family near? Do you have a job history or address or something you can give me?”
The Brown Man tilted his head back and looked at the white ceiling tiles. They were marked here and there with brown water stains. Exhaling, he said, “I am not from this place.”
The Defender laughed. “Well, that’s more of a philosophical sounding answer than what I am looking for. What we need to find is something to prove you are a citizen, or they will put you on an immigration hold and send you to the deportation facility and back across.”
The Brown Man sat up straight, rattling his chains, and said, “Then across is where I must go.”
The Defender sighed and pointed to the front of the courtroom. “This Magistrate is an old friend of the Prosecutor. This hearing won’t be fair anyway. For now, they will keep you in custody. In the next few days, we will set this for a preliminary hearing. That’s our chance to get in front of the actual Judge. Then the Prosecutor will have to prove his charges are valid. The Judge is federally appointed, not one of these local guys. That’s our best chance.” The Defender stood up. “Here comes the Magistrate. I’ll do the talking.”
The Brown Man said quietly, “Thank you, but it is time. You want to help me, but you will fail. I am tired, getting weaker, and this is the end.”
“What the hell does that mean? I’ll get the medical staff to check on you and make sure you get some food and water…you’ll start feeling better. Trust me.”
The Magistrate’s shoes clapped against the wooden steps as he climbed up to the bench. He slammed his gavel and sat down.
“Let’s call the immigration case first. We are going to set the bond. Let’s hear from the prosecution.”
The Brown Man strained to get up. His metal chains clanked and swayed as he shuffled across the floor. He walked to the podium in the middle of the courtroom. The Defender, his large body firm and implanted, stood to the right. The Prosecutor rose, then leaned forward placing the knuckles of both hands on the table. He looked intently at the Magistrate.
“Your Honor, this man was caught in the desert. With him were a dozen men who have no legal right to be in this country. In his backpack we found food, water, and medical supplies. We did not find any identification. One of the men who was with him has offered firsthand testimony that this is the man who brought them across. A few of the men with him have been linked to criminal activity throughout the region. Today we are formally charging him with human trafficking. I have all the paperwork to file. I want to let the court know that we also have an immigration detainer that will be filed soon. We are continuing to gather evidence because we believe he has been wandering around in the desert for several years. However, for the time being, given the nature of the charges, the fact that he has no identification, and no apparent ties to this place, we are asking for a no bond hold.” The Prosecutor sat down.
The Magistrate leaned back in his chair and nodded. “From the defense?”
The Defender sighed. “Your Honor, the only evidence that the prosecution has is that this man was found in the desert. They have one informant who is of questionable veracity. There is no reason to put him on a no bond hold.”
As the Magistrate leaned forward his chair creaked. “Do you have any proof of his residency? Do you have anything to tell me as to whether he is a flight risk? Don’t I have to consider all that as part of my decision?”
“Your Honor, unfortunately, I have no other information on his flight risk or residency.”
“Where are you from? Do you understand what we are talking about?” the Magistrate asked the Brown Man.
“I have heard the allegations,” said the Brown Man. “I am not from this place.”
The Magistrate sat back in his chair. “Well, I find that due to his lack of identification, the allegations raised by the Prosecutor, the statements on the record, and the strong likelihood of conviction, a no bond hold is appropriate. I will accept the filing of the charges. I assume you are wanting to set it for a preliminary hearing?” the Magistrate asked the Defender.
“Yes, Your Honor. We are requesting a preliminary hearing. We’d like it as soon as possible.”
“We can get it up to the district court judge in a couple days. Until then, the prisoner is remanded.”
The holding cell at the jail was a dull bluish gray. The concrete walls and floor had a uniform texture. The green steel door offered contrast. Its tiny glass window peered out into the booking station. Inside the cell was a solid concrete sleeping bench. A stainless steel toilet and sink were on the opposite side of the room. The Brown Man wore socks and rubber sandals. He stretched his toes and felt the cotton tighten on his feet. The baggy purple clothes hung loosely around his body. He sat on the bench with his head in his hands. The room was quiet. Looking up to the ceiling, tears started to form in his eyes. He forced them back with a deep breath and felt the lump in his throat loosen.
Two hard knocks on the steel door startled him. Through the window he saw the face of one of the Guards.
“Stand up!” the Guard shouted. The Brown Man stood. “Get up against the back wall! Hands against the wall, up and out to the sides, face against the wall! Feet shoulder width and toes against the wall!” The Brown Man stood with effort and walked slowly to the far wall. He stretched out his hands so they were parallel to the ground and extended them as far as he could. The cold concrete felt soothing against his cheek.
The Guards entered the room, grabbed his hands, and put them in cuffs behind his back. As they cuffed him, they squeezed him against the wall. One Guard’s shoulder pushed into the Brown Man’s ribs making it hard to breathe. Finally, the pressure released, and they spun the Brown Man around.
“Later today you are going to J-pod,” a Guard said. “But first we need to do a search of you and your stuff.” The Guards proceeded to pace around the cell. “Some bad dudes in J-pod. The guys with tats all over, even on their faces. But hey, you’ll love it down there. These are your buddies that you’re helping cross the river. Of course, these are the same guys that made a shiv out of a toothbrush and stabbed one of our Guards a few weeks back. He almost died, almost left behind a beautiful family.” The Guard took a small mesh bag containing toiletries and dumped them out onto the bench.
“So, we’ve gotta be extra careful in J-Pod. There’s one guy down there, a Murderer I guess. He likes to get everyone riled up. He helps out the different gang bangers, plays them against each other. Got a great big M tattooed on his head. Anyway, somebody got crosswise with him a week ago, or so we’ve heard, and ended up beaten within an inch of his life. It’s a different kind of brutality with these guys. So, we gotta be extra careful in J-pod.” The Guard stopped pacing and looked at the Brown Man.
“Nothing here. Now it’s time for the second phase of the search. Face me, raise up your arms.” The Brown Man lifted his arms as high as the cuffs would allow and the Guard shoved his hands up into the Brown Man’s armpits. He scratched down the Brown Man’s ribs, digging into the skin with sharp fingernails. “Turn around.” The Guard repeated the scratching motion down the Brown Man’s sides and back and both legs.
“Lift up your shirt,” smirked the other Guard.
“I’m in handcuffs,” replied the Brown Man.
“Then kneel down.” The Guards pushed the Brown Man down onto his knees. They grabbed his shirt and lifted it up. The Brown Man’s arms caught against the shirt, pulled up and back. The shirt surrounded the Brown Man’s head and he groaned as his bodyweight pulled against his shoulder sockets. He struggled to breathe. One of the Guards walked around the cell slowly. The Brown Man felt pressure and blood pooling in a circle around his scalp. Finally, they dropped him onto the floor.
“Stand up!” the Guard shouted. The Brown Man struggled to his feet.
“Now your pants.”
The Brown Man looked at the Guard. Their eyes met and the Guard smiled.
“I’m in handcuffs,” the Brown Man repeated, feeling tension in his jaw.
“Let me help you.” The Guard spun the Brown Man around and tore the jail pants down. The Brown Man stood motionless. The Guards stood back. “Spin around for me, princess, let’s take a look at you.” The Brown Man, his face red and his pants around his ankles, shuffled his feet in a circle. Feeling flush, sweat came over him and he felt heat rise in his neck. His face hardened and he stood defiantly as he looked at the Guards.
“All right, that’s enough, get back against the wall,” said one of the Guards.
The Brown Man turned, loosening his body as he shuffled to the back wall with his pants dragging across the floor. When he reached the wall, the Guards again pushed him against the cold concrete and undid the handcuffs.
“Have fun with your buddies.” The Guards left the room, the steel door clanged shut, and the lock clicked. The Brown Man pulled up his pants.
The Defender wore a white dress shirt and a red tie. His shirt was still wrinkled and his stomach still bulged out over his belt. The meeting room was the same brushed concrete finish as the rest of the jail. They sat across from one another at a silver metal table with rounded edges. The Brown Man’s hands were resting intertwined in his lap. His handcuffs were attached to a chain that ran between his legs and down to his ankles. The cuffs on his ankles circled his jail pants. The Defender took some folders and a large black book from his briefcase. The black book had white letters written on it: “The United States Code.” He dropped it onto the table with a thud.
“Your preliminary hearing is tomorrow. The Prosecutor only filed one charge, but he filed it a bunch of times. Twelve counts of human trafficking under Title 8, Chapter 13 of the US Code. According to that provision, he has to prove that you either transported or harbored immigrants illegally and that you did so for compensation. I don’t think he can do it. I think I can get these charges dismissed. We know that they can prove you were in the desert, by the river, with a bunch of immigrants. They can prove that you were helping these people. However, they can’t prove that you got paid for it.”
The Brown Man smiled. The metal chains clinked as he sat up in his chair. “Thank you for your help, but I think I’ve come to the end.”
“Why do you keep saying that? Did medical come see you? You don’t look good. You’re thin. Are they giving you enough to eat? I’ll make sure to check on that. Listen, the court already appointed me to your case. It won’t cost you anything.” The Defender sat back in his chair. He threw both hands up and out towards the Brown Man saying, “Why don’t you want my help?”
The Brown Man leaned forward. He placed his hands on the book and pulled it across the table. He flipped through the pages. “In this book are rules, but no answers. Those men needed my help, but these rules say I can’t help them. You want to find a rule in this book to explain why it is okay for me to help those in need. That is why you can’t help me.”
The Defender rubbed his forehead with his fingertips. He exhaled and clasped his hands together on the table. “Of all the people around, I am the best one to help you. I’m your right-hand man. And whether you like them or not, these rules are what we have. These rules are what the court will use. These rules are the thing that allows us to take a wilderness and build a civilization. Maybe if the guys you are bringing across had good rules and books and people like me in their own countries, they wouldn’t have to keep coming here.” The Defender leaned back in his chair. “I have helped a lot of people using these rules. Look, the system isn’t perfect, but if we just ignore the rules, then what? Some of those people that you brought across,” the Defender paused and leaned across the table, “some of these guys it turns out, had been arrested and deported before. One of them had an attempted murder charge. Some have the gang tattoos. I’ve represented guys in those gangs before, they’re bad guys. Even I am glad those rules exist to keep them out. Besides, I don’t think just going up to the Judge and saying, ‘Don’t worry about the rules, he was just trying to help people’ is going to get us very far.”
The Brown Man leaned forward. “I know those men are imperfect. Still, I chose to help them and treat them as my brothers.” The Brown Man smiled. “I treated them like I’d want to be treated.”
“But they betrayed you!” the Defender yelled. “Don’t you see that? Why should you sacrifice yourself and let them go free?” The Defender pointed to the book. “Let me use these rules to help you.”
The Brown Man sat still. “There is only one rule that matters.”
The Defender let out an irritated grunt and retrieved the black book, holding it up with both hands. “Well, that’s a wonderful speech and all, but your rule isn’t in this book. And this is the book that matters.”
The Judge’s hair was white and smooth and slicked back into a widow’s peak. It contrasted sharply against the black of his robe and olive color of his skin. He sat high above the rest of the courtroom. The waxed, light tan wood of the tables and court benches reflected the fluorescent lights. The Brown Man sat to the left of the Defender at one of the tables. Across the podium was the Prosecutor. Guards stood near the doors. The Brown Man was shackled. On the table in front of the Defender sat his big black book. The Brown Man saw a copy of the same book on the table in front of the Prosecutor.
The Judge began, “We are now calling case 19CR33, scheduled today for a preliminary hearing. The Accused is present represented by the Public Defender, the Prosecutor is also present. Today we will take evidence to decide whether enough probable cause exists to bind the case over or if it should be dismissed. The prosecution has the burden of proof, so we will begin with the prosecution’s opening statement, if any.”
The Prosecutor stood up and buttoned his suit jacket. He walked in short confident strides to the podium. Placing his hands on either side, he inhaled deeply and looked up.
“Your Honor, the People bring twelve charges of human trafficking today. The elements of this crime are simple: that the individual, voluntarily and for personal benefit, illegally transported, harbored, or aided a person to facilitate their illegal entry into this country. Each of the counts stems from the current incident when the accused was found on a hill in the desert near the river. This case is simple, Your Honor. He was found with twelve men. He was found with water, food, and medical supplies. None of those men had proper documentation and all appear to have been illegally entering this country with the aid of the accused. Two of the men located with him had active immigration warrants for prior illegal entry. You will hear direct testimony from one of the individuals present that night, we have an eyewitness account. You will also hear testimony indicating that this individual is well known for aiding criminals in their attempt to enter this country, that he has set out to establish a name for himself as the one who can save those most desperate to get across the border. After that testimony, we believe that the court should accept the charges, and bind the case over.”
The Judge looked at the Defender. “Does the defense wish to make a statement?”
The Defender stood up. “Only to remind the court that it’s the Prosecutor’s job to prove each element of each crime as it is written in the Code, let’s see what he’s got.”
“Prosecution to call its first witness,” said the Judge.
The Prosecutor turned and looked to the back of the courtroom. The doors opened and the Smallest Man walked through. He was well dressed and cleaned up. His hair had been cut and he was wearing a new suit. The Smallest Man walked between the seats in the gallery and up to the witness stand. He was sworn in by the Judge and sat down.
The Prosecutor started his questioning. “Sir, do you recognize the individual sitting at the defense table? Can you identify him and describe to the court who he is?”
The Smallest Man replied, “I do recognize him, the man there in the purple outfit, he is the man who helped us in the desert.”
“When you say he helped you, what do you mean exactly?”
“While we were trying to get across, he was there. He led us through the desert. He shared his food with us, he shared his water. We ate with him. He offered to help us get healed up…” The Smallest Man began to shift in his chair, his voice trailed off and he coughed at the end of his sentence.
“How did you know he would be there? Did you have it set up to meet with him? Or did he just sort of miraculously appear?” The Prosecutor raised both arms in mocking confusion.
“We had heard of him. We’d been told that he’d be coming. That there was a man who met you near the river. That he would help get you across, get into the water with you and take you to the other side. That once you got through the water with him and to the other side, you could stay with him and he would take care of you.” The Smallest Man’s eyes began to water.
“How many men did he help across that night?”
“Twelve, counting myself.”
“So, what you are saying is that this man aided you, and eleven other men, in illegally entering this country. Is that right?” the Prosecutor asked.
“Yes sir, he did.”
“Did he provide you any documentation, or otherwise give you any reason to believe that under the laws of this country he was legally providing you with this aid? Did you or any of your fellow Travelers provide him with any documentation about being able to legally enter this country?”
The Smallest Man looked up with a dismissive laugh. “There were thirteen men swimming across the river in the middle of the night…there was no paperwork. We all knew it was illegal.”
“Thank you, Your Honor, no further questions for this witness.” The Prosecutor walked back to his chair, stood neatly, unbuttoned his coat and sat down.
“Defense may now cross-examine,” said the Judge.
“Thank you, Your Honor.” The Defender stood slowly and went to the podium. Leaning over it and staring at the Smallest Man he began.
“You identified my client as the man who led you through the desert. Are you sure this is the same man?”
“I am sure it is the same man, though he looks a little different.”
“What is different?” asked the Defender.
“He looks thinner, more ragged, sicker than he did when we met him.”
The Defender looked towards the Brown Man’s gaunt frame and noticed the cheekbones protruding from the beard. Shaking his head, the Defender looked back to the Smallest Man.
“Sir, you told this court that the accused helped you when you were in the desert. But, did you pay him for this help? Do you know if he was compensated in some way?”
“No sir, I did not pay him. I don’t think any of the others did either.”
“Did you or the others offer him some sort of service, or thing of value, or threaten him, or force him or otherwise bribe him to help you?”
“No sir, I don’t believe he received anything for it and none of us made him do it.”
“Then what could have motivated him to go out into the desert, meet you in the river, and then help you get across?”
“I don’t know, sir. I don’t know why he did it.” The Smallest Man’s wiped a tear from his face.
The Defender continued. “You betrayed him and the others abandoned him. And here he is in a criminal court and you are in a new suit. Tell me, what did he get out of the deal? Did he tell you what he wanted in return?”
“I already said I don’t know why he did it,” the Smallest Man said. “He wouldn’t take the money we offered him.”
The Defender pushed down with both hands on the side of the podium. “What did he say when you offered him the money?”
“He said ‘no, hermano,’ and pushed my hand away.”
The Defender’s lips stiffened and his brow hardened as he stared at the Smallest Man. The Smallest Man continued to wipe tears from his face. Taking a tissue from the stand he wiped the snot from his nose. The Defender stood up straight.
“Sir, is it true that you were compensated to be here today?”
“Objection, Your Honor!” the Prosecutor stood up sharply. “This is irrelevant.”
The Judge raised his hand towards the Prosecutor. “Defense counsel, what is your response to the objection?”
“Your Honor, this man is a paid informant, his credibility is critical to this inquiry. The Prosecutor must prove that my client illegally trafficked people across the border. To do so, he must show that there was some compensation for the aid that was provided. It is relevant that the only compensation involved here was by the government to the informant.”
“Objection overruled, sir, please answer defense counsel’s question,” the Judge said sternly.
The Smallest Man gathered himself. “I was paid. The Agents said that if I could find the man who was helping people in the desert and turn him in, they’d pay me and let me go.” The Smallest Man dropped his gaze. He put his hand to his head and said, “I wish I could give it back.” The Defender walked slowly back to his seat.
“The witness is excused,” said the Judge. The Smallest Man tugged at the tie around his neck. As he walked out of the courtroom, he took off his new suit jacket and wept.
“Prosecution may call its next witness,” said the Judge.
The Prosecutor looked to the side of the courtroom and the Murderer walked in. On the side of his face was the dark inked M. The Murderer had the same wrist and ankle shackles as the Brown Man. He was escorted by Guards on either side and went to the witness stand. He was seated and sworn in.
“Sir, are you familiar with the man sitting at the defense table?” the Prosecutor asked the Murderer.
“Yeah, I know him, he’s the guy that you can use to get across the river.” The Murderer sniffed and rubbed his nose as he spoke.
“What do you mean specifically when you say that you can use him to get across the river?” the Prosecutor asked.
“Well, it ain’t easy getting across you know, and people won’t help you if you got all the tats and shit on you. They get too scared or whatever. But guys know that he’ll help anyway, so he’s the one you look for.” The Murderer sat in a reclined position, looking calmly at the Prosecutor.
“Do you mean to say it is common knowledge among criminals trying to enter this country that they should seek out this particular man to traffic them in?” the Prosecutor asked confidently from the podium.
“Well, he don’t do it in traffic like in a car,” the Murderer laughed, “you gotta walk. But yeah, he’ll get anybody in. He’s like sort of famous for that.”
“No further questions, Your Honor.” The Prosecutor sat down.
“Now from the defense,” prompted the Judge.
The Defender stood up and approached the podium, placing both hands in the pockets of his pants and shrugging forward onto his toes.
“Sir, have you ever personally met the man sitting here today?” the Defender asked.
“Nah, I never met him. I seen him in the jail, but I ain’t talked to him. But everybody knows who he is.” The Murderer continued to sniff casually at the air.
“So, he never helped you, is that right?” the Defender continued.
“Nah, I been here a long time, he’s only been out there the last few years I guess.”
“So, you have no personal knowledge, just hearsay.” The Defender put his hands on the podium. “Tell me, do you know if he takes compensation for helping get people across?”
“Nah, that’s the thing, you don’t got to even pay him.”
The Defender raised his arms. “So why does he do it?”
“Shit, I don’t know, man.” The Murderer leaned forward. “Maybe he just gets off on everybody knowing his name.”
The Defender shifted his feet. “Sir, were you compensated for being here today?”
“Well,” the Murderer smiled, ”I guess.”
“Can you please clarify?” asked the Defender.
“Objection, Your Honor.” The Prosecutor rose. “This line of questioning is inappropriate and irrelevant.”
“Response from the defense?” asked the Judge.
“Your Honor, this is the same issue as before. The Prosecutor has the burden, and he brings in these witnesses, their credibility goes to the heart of the matter before the court. It is imperative that this court allow the information on bias to come in. The court must allow him to answer the question.”
“Counsel,” the Judge said with irritation, “I can decide for myself what I must hear. However, in this instance I agree with you, the witness is directed to answer the question.”
“Sir,” the Defender reiterated, “what compensation did you receive?”
“The Prosecutor told me he’d cut me a deal and get me out early if I testified, like a plea deal.”
“Is that accurate?” the Judge asked, his eyebrows raised towards the Prosecutor.
“Your Honor, my office’s plea deals are outside the scope of this court’s jurisdiction,” the Prosecutor replied. “I have been chosen to represent the People, and we get to decide who to let out early.”
“I understand that these types of early release pleas are customary here,” the Judge said, “and while I may disagree with the practice, or at least the manner it is employed, for my purposes, I need to get to the truth of the matter. That involves the credibility of witnesses. So just tell me whether there was a deal.” The Judge waited for the Prosecutor to answer.
The Prosecutor crossed his arms. “I’ll only say that there was an arrangement made with this witness relating to his testimony today.”
“Very well,” stated the Judge, “does the defense have any more questions of this witness?”
“No, Your Honor,” the Defender replied.
“The witness may be excused,” said the Judge.
The Murderer smiled as he was escorted out of the back of the courtroom.
“Prosecution to call the next witness.”
“Your Honor, we don’t have any additional witnesses, but we do ask the court to take judicial notice of the previous filings, and specifically of the findings of the Magistrate. Also, at the bond hearing, there was testimony from the accused himself that he isn’t from this area. It is clear that he trafficked these men across the border, and that he did it for his own self-aggrandizement. Other than that, it’s a simple case. We rest.” The Prosecutor sat down again.
The Judge looked down and shook his head. He shifted and looked at the Brown Man.
“Sir, you heard the accusations that they have made against you. This is the time in the course of the proceedings when you can respond, if you want. Of course, you also have the right to stay silent. You can discuss it with your counsel as to whether to testify or not, but the final answer has to come from you. They are accusing you of illegally trafficking people into the country. They say you were the leader of those men.”
The Brown Man sat up straight and said, “You have explained the accusations, sir.”
“Do you want to testify in your defense? Do you want to tell me where you come from?”
The Brown Man tilted back slightly. His eyes locked on the Judge’s face. He flexed the muscles in his stomach and sat up straight. The two men stared at each other in silence. As the Brown Man’s muscles began to feel weak, he fell back into his chair.
The Judge centered himself slowly. “The record will reflect no statement on behalf of the Accused.” He turned to the Prosecutor. “The court takes into consideration the testimony of the witnesses as presented by the Prosecutor, and accepts the information from the Magistrate’s hearing, though it is not binding on this court. The court finds no dispute that the accused was in the desert. Further, the court finds that he likely had provided food and aid to those coming across. The court also finds that there is evidence that criminals specifically sought him out for aid. The court, however, also finds that there is no evidence or testimony that the accused received any compensation for this aid. The testimony is to the contrary, that he brought people across without receiving anything in return. The Defender brought up earlier the requirement that the Prosecutor prove each element as written in the Code. The Code says, ‘for personal benefit.’ Even assuming the Accused did this to make himself famous or to feel good about himself, that doesn’t meet the requirement of showing a personal benefit. There wasn’t any financial benefit, the only actual compensation here was that paid to the witnesses. The court also considers the credibility of those witnesses, and the extent to which their motivation for testifying was stirred up and encouraged by the government’s own actions. In sum, there is simply no evidence that there was any intent beyond aiding these men without consideration of personal gain, and the statute requires more. As a result, I am ordering that this case be dismissed and the Defendant released. I find no case against him.”
The Prosecutor quickly rose. “Your Honor, despite you improperly ruling in the criminal case, which I will appeal, you forget the matter of the immigration detainer. There is still no proof of citizenship. My colleagues in the customs office have filed an immigration proceeding and are here to take him to the deportation facility.”
The Defender stood up and exclaimed, “Your Honor, this court has dismissed the case, my client must be released. You have no authority to hand him over to the immigration authorities. Neither does the prosecution. I object to any such action. You do not have any authority to order it.”
“Counsel!” the Judge scolded. “Once again, you are not to tell me what I can or cannot do. You are aware that there are rules regarding immigration detainers. Do you deny the law? I exercised my discretion in dismissing this case, but I will release your client to the immigration authorities as the Prosecutor has requested. The proper paperwork has been filed and the procedures are outlined in that book you have on your table. You are an officer of this court. Is it your intention to deny your professional obligations in the course of defending this man?”
The Defender’s mouth hung open for a moment, then he began to speak. “Your Honor, I,” he stammered, “I know that is in the rules.” The Defender sank into his chair, then raised up again slightly. “Your Honor, my client has been feeling ill. I’d ask that the Agents ensure he receives medical care at the detention facility.”
In the back of the courtroom, the Commander stood with two Agents. They approached in their black uniforms. Lifting the Brown Man up from his chair, they led him out of the courtroom.
In the bright yellow sunlight, the Agents led the Brown Man toward a bus painted green and white. “Let’s go!” one of the Agents yelled. “Hurry up. You’re getting on the bus.” With each step across the parking lot the steel of the shackles dug into the Brown Man’s ankles. An Agent’s foot caught on the Brown Man’s heel and the Brown Man tripped. His hands reached out to break the fall and scraped against small bits of gravel. His cheek fell against the hard black asphalt, which felt warm against his skin. The Brown Man breathed in the smell of the tar as the blood ran out on his palms. The Agents lifted him and they continued over to the bus.
As the Brown Man started climbing up into the bus his foot slipped and he fell into the stairs. The hard, serrated metal corners cut into his ribs. The fall knocked the wind out of his chest.
“Get up!” yelled the Agent. The bus driver got out of his seat and helped carry the Brown Man up the stairs. The Brown Man pulled in air rapidly. The pain in his ribs throbbed.
On the bus, the Brown Man was placed in a seat by the window. He could see the desert out the window as the bus drove away. The highway quickly began to snake along the river. Tan hills, like those where he knelt days ago, passed as the bus sped along. The bus was stifling. He was thirsty. The Agent beside him was drinking from a water bottle. The muscles in the Brown Man’s neck began to tighten. He felt his nostrils begin to drip. His chest rose and fell deeply as he struggled to breathe.
The Agent next to him took a big drink of water from his bottle. He held the bottle up toward the Brown Man with a questioning look. Then he spit the water back into the bottle and offered it with a laugh. The Brown Man’s head rolled heavily back over his lap. He began to weep. The Agents laughed.
The Commander came over to the Brown Man. “Look at this fellas, he’s crying. A few days ago he was the king of the desert and now he’s in chains.” The Agents smiled at each other and continued to chuckle. The Commander looked at the Brown Man.
“Go ahead and cry. Nobody’s going to help you now. You’re all alone. But go ahead. Hell, call out to your mama and papa if you want. They ain’t coming.” The Commander breathed in deeply and looked out the window. “If your parents really loved you, they would’ve kept their son from giving up on his life to save a bunch of trespassers. But that’s what you did and look at you now. You’re all tied up, ribs bruised, hands bleeding, struggling to breathe. And soon you’re going to be sent away from here forever.” The Commander squatted down to eye level. “And all of this for what? What did you get for bringing those men food and something to drink? They betrayed you. You showed them compassion and they turned you over and abandoned you.”
The Brown Man wept harder. His stomach warped and twisted and his head began to fog and sway. He focused on the salty taste of the snot dripping down into his mouth. Looking out the window the Brown Man saw they were exiting the highway. He felt the Commander slap him on the back.
“I’d cry too, knowing someone I’d risked my life for took my sacrifice and used it to turn a profit,” the Commander said. “So, you go ahead and cry.”
The detention center was a large white building. Around the building was a chain-link fence with barbed wire along the top. A gate was guarded by two Agents with large rifles. The bus rolled through the gate and into the compound. “Alright fella, we’re here so cheer up. You are going back to your people.” The Commander stood up. “They are all in that building in some cages over there. You probably don’t like that, do you? Well, what do you want us to do? They come here, all these poor people, sick and tired from their trip, huddled up at the fence, masses of them every month.” The Commander spoke slowly. “Mixed in with the women and children are some bad dudes. So, what are we supposed to do? We can’t just let them walk in.”
The Brown Man felt the tears streaming down his face. “They want help.”
The Commander laughed, “Of course they want help. Back home they have to worry about guys with machetes cutting them up, and the women getting raped, and their kids getting forced into gangs. Sort of makes this seem like a pretty good place to be. Hell, we treat them better than their own people. So, maybe we are helping them after all.”
The brakes on the bus whined to a stop. The Agents lifted the Brown Man up by the armpits. Exhausted, the Brown Man struggled to walk down the stairs. He squinted as he came into the sun. The Agents helped carry him across the hot asphalt and into the building.
The Brown Man’s eyes slowly adjusted to the dim interior. Shades of brown mixed with the dull shine of metal bars and gray chain-link fence. Light from the few windows flashed upon the dust floating in the air. The whole of the interior had been converted into holding cells. The Brown Man limped past them. Inside the cells figures began to move and stir.
The Agents shouted, “Get back! Shut up!” The Brown Man’s leg shackles clinked as they drug along the concrete floor. “Hey!” shouted one of the Agents. “Get your hands back in the cell.” The Agent hit the metal bars with his baton. The clang sounded through the cavernous facility. As the ringing fell quiet in his ears, the Brown Man heard ruffling and caught the glint of a shiny silver blanket inside the cage. He heard a muffled whimper and the sound of snot being pulled through small nostrils and down a tight throat. Looking down, the Brown Man saw two dark circles, wreathed in white, glistening and marbled with red, retreating behind the metal wire.
“Keep moving!” shouted the Agent. The Brown Man turned his face away and wept.
The Agents stopped in front of a cell in the back of the building near a row of small windows. The door clicked and swung open.
“Up against the back wall!” shouted one of the Agents. The Brown Man tried to walk to the back of the cell. He was still struggling to breathe through the tears. He started to fall again but one of the Agents caught him. “Stand up straight! Turn around! Hold your hands out!” The Agents supported the Brown Man as he leaned his back against the chain-link wall. The Brown Man shook. “Stand up straight!” barked the Agent. The Brown Man fell again.
Lifting the Brown Man to his feet, the Agent shouted, “Quit falling down! Stand up against the wall so we can unhook your feet.” The Brown Man fought to steady himself but felt his knees bending. He felt faint. The Agents caught him again.
“Fine, have it your way, we’ll make you stand up.” The Agents unlocked one of the handcuffs and took the still-cuffed wrist and hooked it near the top of the chain-link wall. The Agents took another set of handcuffs, pulled the Brown Man’s arms until they were extended out and tight on both sides and clipped the other hand to the top of the wall. The Brown Man clasped onto the metal wire with his fingers and the Agents let him go. One of the Agents knelt down to unhook the ankle cuffs and saw that they had cut into the skin, staining the Brown Man’s socks with blood. Removing the ankle cuffs and looking up from his knees, the Agent saw the thin Brown Man suspended above him.
Light spilled in through the small window and pierced the musty air, illuminating the thin face. The Agent could see the long dark hair dripping and lying wet against the Brown Man’s neck. He watched as tears slid down the skeletal cheekbones and buried themselves into the stubble of the beard. He could hear the labor of the Brown Man’s breath, the wheezing in the chest. The Agent inhaled the dull odor of sweat emanating from the overheated body. It contrasted against the sharp, cold smell of the steel cage. Kneeling before the Brown man, the Agent saw the legs begin to shake and fail. He watched the pitiful figure, wrapped in purple clothes, caving in on itself.
The Agent slowly stood. Spit flew from the Brown Man’s mouth as he wept and gasped at the air. Flecks of dust swirled in the dim light, circling around the edges and angles of the bones jutting out from the emaciated frame. The Agent looked ahead, and saw the Brown Man hanging there, arms outstretched, his chest rising and falling in deep bursts, tears and sweat streaming down his face, grasping the chain-link fence with his bloody hands. The Brown Man struggled to lift his eyes to the sky. Crying out one more time, the Brown Man collapsed.