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BEARING WITNESS - Welcome to America

This past weekend, there was a plethora of news footage covering previously border-detained travelers who were reunited with loved ones. The detention was the immediate aftermath of a presidential decree banning some travelers from entering the United States. One story concerned a mother and her five-year-old son. The boy had been traveling with a relative and was detained while his mother frantically awaited his release. Following #45's order, married couples entering the United States were separated upon disembarking planes. The White House's response to such situations is that confusion is a small price to pay for national security. That may be true, but unnecessary confusion and cruelty to children are not American. The President of the United States has access to the best minds in the world. A responsible leader calls upon that resource before making decrees. One does not have to be a specialist to lead, but she does have to think. Watching the mother reunite with her son in Washington DC's Dulles Airport brought forth a childhood Immigration & Customs memory.  


Decades ago, travelers entering the U.S.A. were grouped according to national passports. This facilitated cumbersome processing. It was an uncompromising rule. My family learned the hard way that officials didn't have the authority to make common sense exceptions. When I was Jr. Teen's age, after time abroad, our family landed at J.F.K. Airport in the wee hours of the morning. I was thrilled to be back in The States. Landing in New York City, home of Lady Liberty, meant being home. Anyone who's spent significant time overseas knows the joy and comfort one feels when plane wheels touch down on home turf. When it happens, you exhale. 


As a child, I thought it was cool and uniquely American that Mom, Dad, and I were born in different countries. We possessed three different passports. I loved seeing them stacked together, representing the world. That was my usual. No big deal until that early morning at J.F.K. Airport. Our jumbo jet landed simultaneously with a few other large international flights. There were hundreds of travelers navigating the dark, musty airport basement. As passengers made the post-flight zombie walk toward Immigration & Customs lines, my family was stopped. A US passport mandated I enter the country through a line different from my green card-holding parents. Sleepy and confused, we thought my mother's Panamanian passport was being noted. That'd happen all over the world. We were used to it. Daddy's Jamaican and my U.S.A. credentials were familiar, but Mommy's often needed to be looked up to ensure she didn't require a visa. That wasn't it. This time, I was the issue. 


Young, vulnerable U.S.A. passport holding Kamyra was denied admittance to the non-citizen immigration line. Knowing they couldn't enter the U.S. citizen line; my parents routed our family to the area designated for their passports. Believing that the head of the household's documents determined where the family would be processed. When questioned, they explained that they would not approach the citizen line but wanted to keep their minor girl-child safe with them. "Absolutely not." Lots of adult discussion ensued. My mother's face went from weary traveler to hyper-alert, worried mother. My father's stance changed from laid back to protective. Both used their American post-secondary education to problem solve in the ways of this country. 


A manager was summoned. There was more adult conversation. It was no use. Without an escort, I, an underage citizen born in the U.S.A., had to be separated from my parents and thrown into a smelly crowd of strangers, where I was charged with engaging in grown-up business. International travel today is light years ahead of what it was back then. This was before kiosks, customer service training, and friendly uniformed security. I was being thrown into one pit, my parents another. The best the uniformed workers could tell us was to find each other on the other end. The other end of what? Although I'd flown solo domestically, I'd never encountered the intimidating U.S. Immigration & Customs maze alone. At the time of pre-renovations, J.F.K. Airport was the busiest port of entry in the country. Saying what occurred there resembled herding cattle is generous. The place was a mess. 


Blessed with parents who made me feel safe, I securely thought they would care for me, no matter what. I was a seasoned traveler with untested youthful confidence by this point in my short life. I may not have been through J.F.K.'s bureaucracy, but I'd survived airports worldwide. I assumed I could handle this one. Plus, even in a different line, my parents wouldn't let anything happen to me. Right? If they could see me, that was. I was scared, a bit for me but primarily for my parents. The officials seemed angry that a mother and father had done their job and tried to protect their child. Would they be punished? 


Having traveled to and lived in many countries, I was proud to be from a country that embraced families like ours. That day, my country welcomed me home with fear. Today, at J.F.K. Airport, there are signs instructing families to stay together. One tear of gratitude welled in my eyes the first time I saw it. Gone were the days when families were separated when entering the United States of America. Or are they? Have those signs been removed pursuant to #45's order? 


Why am I babbling about a couple of hours in my past? Because when that happened, I was more than twice as old as the boy detained three days ago. Yet it was so traumatic that I recall the feeling in the pit of my stomach every time I encountered the U.S.A. Immigration & Customs. Imagine what this child and others like him felt this past weekend being separated from their parents, possibly permanently. I was blessed with faith that my family would be reunited. No matter how much she loved him, the mother in D.C. was not guaranteed that she'd see her five-year-old son again.  


Policy and security aside, where is the humanity? One frightened child is too many. Why isn't #45 accessing big brains to devise systems that prevent such avoidable nonsense? Executives may not have to perform every job that falls under them, but they need to be able to think. 

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