Almost a year ago, we travelled to America. It was a good trip and you can read all about it at the link. But here’s the thing. When we entered the country, we were faced with a slight hiccup – Rasa was detained. In my write up of the trip, I described it thusly:
…then he asked about Rasa and her status. I explained about her ESTA visa and showed him the paperwork which said it had been granted. Thing was, it wasn’t in his system. “No problem,” he said. “It happens from time to time.” These are only mildly comforting words after a twelve hour flight. “It’s the system, sometimes it doesn’t come through. Happens to 1 in 2000 or so.” Then he explained that she would be taken into a room where they had better access to the ESTA system and that would be that. “And take the baby with you, that way they’ll take you first.”
They came to get her and I was told to go ahead and get the luggage and wait at the bottom of the escalator. No indication how long it would take or anything else. So I got the bags and waited. After 20 minutes I realized I had her phone so I couldn’t even call if I wanted to check on things (Turns out, wouldn’t have mattered since they took everyone’s phones away). After about 35-40 minutes, Rasa and Monki came down the escalator, looking none-to-pleased. She said they were all incredibly rude and when one person asked how long it would take the response was “In here, time stops.” The question about letting family know what was happening was met with “If they really love you, they’ll keep waiting.”
Thankfully, for Rasa, it really was a simple matter of paperwork miscommunication and she was released quickly. But still…scary. Anything could have happened.
And now, today, from our vantage point 5000 miles away, we’re watching children being separated from their parents and taken to internment camps for crossing the border illegally. There is a “zero tolerance” policy in place which means had they not been able to find Rasa’s paperwork “in the system,” it would have appeared as if she was trying to enter the country illegally and since they had taken her and the baby away, I would never have known anything about it. Hell, even if they had found the paperwork, if they decided they hadn’t or that she was being problematic or anything else, they could have kept her indefinitely.
When I was married before, my British wife was coming through immigration and the officer was asking her all sorts of personal questions, which she felt she had to answer because, even back then some 18-20 years ago, he could have made life difficult had he wanted to (turns out, he was flirting, but in his position of authority, it was awkward at best). Now, when there’s no room for nuance, any infraction garners the maximun response (hence “zero tolerance”) it becomes absoultely terrifying to think of entering the US.
Sure, when I mention this, it gets pointed out to me that we have an advantage. Rasa is white and speaks English, fluently. But then there’s articles like this one – about a family raising their child in a multi-lingual home and being harassed for it. So yes, I know the possibilities of her being refused entry are remote, but again, that’s no guarantee about anything, it just makes it a little easier, what it does do, however, is speak to the racism inherant in the entire situation.
So if you’re reading this and thinking it couldn’t happen to us, as I did, wait until they take your loved one away. We had done everything right and they still took her. I’m an American citizen, my daughter is an American citizen and my wife is married to an American citizen…it easily could have a year ago, and now, it makes me incredibly nervous to think about it.