I have had this nightmare many times.
I get to immigration, and they tell me I am barred. I can see Russell waiting for me across the border. I can’t signal to him, but only make eye contact. I argue, I refuse to leave the area. I fight. They take my passport. They cancel my visa.
In one version of the dream, I am coming back into the USA from abroad. They rip into me for living abroad and for being Anti-American. They question me. They berate me, waving my passport in my face. In the dreams, the border agents sometimes wear Trump pins.
“Are you such a loser that you can’t get a job here?”
“What are your opinions of President Trump?”
“We understand that you have been expressing dissent online.”
In one version of the dream, they take my passport and say that I can choose right then whether I ever want to see my family again, enter the USA to never leave again, or become a stateless person.
In another dream, I am barred from getting into the UK to see my husband who is in hosptial. In another, I am horrified to see that one critical box remains unchecked on my entry application. In another, a border guard gets in my face about having lived in China. In another, I don’t pass the medical exam or refuse to have a chest x-ray while pregnant.
“You’ll have to start everything over, then.”
“But the safety of my baby is more important, surely!”
I want to interject here that the closest I’ve ever been to having these nightmares come true was in Denver International Airport.
My then-boyfriend (now husband) and I had to go through separate lines at the border, as always. It was a bad day at the border, and it took more than an hour and a half for me to get through. I stood in the baggage claim area, with all our bags. Russell waited another 90 minutes.
When he handed his passport over to the agent and told him he was there to visit my family and to travel a little bit. The border agent asked him an innocuous question.
“Where did you meet your girlfriend?”
“We met in South Korea.”
This is where the agent went off the handle. I watched in horror from the doorway of the baggage claim area while he began yelling at Russell, telling him that he was lying, that it wasn’t possible that he met me in South Korea, and giving indications that he was about to ban him from the USA. I was paralysed with fear.
I didn’t know if I could run back into the stifling border room. I didn’t know where they would take Russell if the agent refused to let him through. I had no phone with which to call a lawyer and no money to pay one.
Luckily, my husband is a calm and measured person. He took the railing and abuse on the chin, calmly stated the truth, and calmed the border agent down.
He stamped his passport, shoved it at Russell, and spat, “We’re done here!”
Welcome to my country.
Although my family is not directly impacted by the ban on immigration and entry that Trump signed into law, I feel it in my bones.
I am in a unique position to understand what absolute nightmares those now detained in airports are feeling. The anxieties of navigating how to live as a family in the same country this century are back-breaking. No matter where one tries to obtain legal residency and work permits, it is a fraught process.
Right now, more than 170 people are detained in airports around the USA, and thousands more are in limbo around the world. Couples are being separated. Some who worked for the USA as interpreters during the Iraq War are being handcuffed and led away. Scientists, engineers, students, and artists from the seven affected countries are being told to stay away.
The merits of whole swaths of good people trying their best to have a life in the USA are being thrown out with the stroke of a pen. Ostensibly, this is to do with national origin. Clearly, it doesn’t matter to the execution of the order on the border that this is wholly illegal as a basis for denying entry to the USA. Of course, it is a paltry cover for the real reasons behind Trump’s ban.
My heart breaks for the people whose tickets have been torn up en route to the USA. These people won the rights afforded them with a visa process that is invasive, demanding, and soul-crushing. They are the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.
And yet, the implications of this ban are far more concerning.
Trump has shown that with unilateral action he can throw the US into chaos. He can immediately and without checks and balances directly impact the lives and livelihoods of Americans, American Hopefuls, and those who don’t even really want much to do with the USA.
When immigration laws change for any one group, they tend to change for all groups. Often in unexpected ways.
This means that as I sit here in South Korea, trying to figure out what complicated dance we need to do to be able to live together in the coming year, that my husband and I stand to be affected by Trump’s pen, too. He already made it clear that his whole policy is supposedly “America First.” What will happen to my binational, nascent family? Where can we go? Will Trump somehow affect my passport as an American who lives abroad?
For the moment, all those questions of mine must be on hold. I need to help my fellows. I will be calling my representatives every day via Skype until such time as the ban is lifted. I will be donating to the ACLU and refugee groups. I will not be quiet.
This is a nightmare. It must end.