Coming Home

No, this isn’t one of my fiction stories. It’s real. It’s not about crime fiction, either, so do feel free to move on to your next blog visit if you wish.

The ‘we will be landing soon’ announcement crackled over the plane’s PA system. The baby stirred a little as I picked her up from where she’d been sleeping next to me. I had no idea how she’d do in this new country of hers. They’d told me that she might find it hard to get used to the water here. And I knew I wouldn’t be able to get the same kind of formula she’d been used to drinking. I had no idea what that might do to her digestion.

Getting used to the climate would be a challenge for her, too. It was February – short-sleeve weather where she was born, but sometimes bitterly cold where we were going. And all she had was one small suitcase. In it was the only toy of her own that she’d brought with her – a small stuffed bear. At least she was healthy – they’d told me that, too, and she certainly seemed to be. And I was determined to give her the best life I could in her new world.

When the plane finally taxied to the gate, I stood up, still holding the baby, and stretched. My clothes and nerves were rumpled from the long flight, and now I was going to have to face getting myself, a baby, and two suitcases from this plane to the plane that would take us to our final destination.

There was one major hurdle: Customs and Immigration. The thing was, the baby wasn’t a US citizen. I am, but I had no idea what I was going to do about getting us both through Passport Control. There were only two options: the ‘US Citizens’ lane, and the ‘Non-US Citizens’ lane. I worried that, if I chose the wrong one, they’d take her away. I couldn’t imagine being separated from my child. I took a deep breath, settled the baby into her child carrier, tightened my grip on the suitcases, and moved towards the ‘US Citizens’ lane.

When it was my turn, I showed the Passport Control officer my own passport, which he stamped perfunctorily. Then, I asked him about the baby, who had a different passport. His expression changed slightly, and he looked at her, then more closely at me.  ‘You’ll have to go to the Immigration waiting room,’ he said.

After we’d gotten through Passport Control, I started looking for the Immigration waiting room. I didn’t know where it was, as there weren’t any signs pointing to it. Within about five minutes, I was completely disoriented. I was also exhausted, hungry, and concerned about the baby, who was just as hungry and tired of it all as I was.

Finally, I saw a door marked ‘Exit.’ That door, I knew, would lead me out of the airport, and I couldn’t do that. They’d told me I would need to apply for an entry visa – what used to be called a ‘Green Card’ – for my daughter, and that I’d have to get a stamp at our port of entry.

Completely befuddled, and getting more and more concerned, I finally flagged down an airline representative. He took one look at us, disheveled, weary, and confused, and very kindly helped us find the room we needed.

Then came the next step: the visa. The Immigration waiting room was large and utilitarian, filled with long rows of government-building plastic seats – the kind you see at Department of Motor Vehicles offices, and places like that. I had no idea what I was supposed to do once I got to the room. There were no signs, and no-one right there to answer questions. There wasn’t very much pleasantness, either. The other people who were waiting were talking quietly among themselves in dozens of different languages. They had their own issues and weren’t paying any attention to me. The officials behind the long front counter were busily staring at their computers.

I wasn’t sure what my next step should be, but I knew one thing: I was going to get my daughter and me through this mess and onto our next flight. So, I went up to the front counter. There were no ‘take a number’ signs, so I approached one of the officials.

He looked up at me with one of those impassive, ‘government employee’ expressions. I was not encouraged. Everything changed, though, when I explained my situation in American English. With a ‘Can I help you?’ smile, he asked me for the baby’s passport, my passport, and the adoption paperwork. My stomach churned for a moment as I fumbled for everything. What if I’d forgotten something? What if they wouldn’t let me keep her? I let out a slow breath when I found the stash of papers.

The Immigration official looked at everything, then at us. Then he stamped the baby’s passport and explained to me that we would receive an official ‘Green Card’ in a few weeks. In the meantime, he said, the passport stamp would serve as her visa. ‘Don’t lose it,’ he warned me. If I did, he said, we would have no proof that she was legally in the country.

Fortunately, my story ended well. My baby and I got onto our connecting flight with no problem, landed at our destination, and got on with our lives. The adoption paperwork was completed both in the US and in my daughter’s country of birth, and she is now a US citizen – has been almost all of her life. We went through that process, too. But throughout it all, I worried that things would go horribly wrong. Mostly, I worried that I might lose my child. And I had a lot of advantages (I speak the dominant language, I’m a US citizen, and, while no-one would confuse me with a rich person, my husband and I had the means for a safe trip). I cannot imagine how frightening entering this country must be for someone with a small child or children, but who doesn’t have those advantages.

People who are fleeing, sometimes for their own lives, have enough troubles, especially if they are bringing children with them. When they get to their destination, a humane society will provide them with a safe place to stay, help from someone who speaks their language, and a humane, dignified system for settling their official status, so that they can start over. A humane society will not separate them from their children. A humane society will not punish children while their parents work through the system. A humane society will not make the immigration system so complicated, expensive and difficult that it can’t be negotiated unless one has money and a good lawyer.

As I look at what’s going on in the news, I cannot help but think how inhumane and unnecessary it is to tear families apart. There are other ways to settle official status without forcibly taking children from their parents. Research and common humanity show us that children who are taken from their families are more apt to suffer from all sorts of consequences. So are their parents. To me, this forced removal of children is cruel and unethical, and it’s wrong on many levels. Many of the people affected by this policy have no voice. But I do. And I choose to use it.

50 Comments

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50 responses to “Coming Home

  1. Christine Poulson

    This touches my heart, Margot, for reasons you will understand. I am with you on this.

  2. Oh my goodness! My heart was pounding. I was worried the baby would be in the waiting room for hours with no formula. Thank God you’re all okay.

  3. Thank you for sharing your story.

  4. Crime story or not, this little jewel has suspense and tension to spare. Wonderful job! 🙂
    –Michael

  5. Alex

    Wow! Powerful, Margot. And yes, a heart wrenching subject given what’s going on in the world, and in the US in particular these days. Thank you for sharing your story.

    • Thanks for reading my story, Alex. It is so awful and heart-wrenching, isn’t it, that people’s children are being taken away from them. I cannot begin to imagine how terrible and frightening it must be. I hope with everything I have that compassion and humanity will win out. There has to be a better way.

  6. This is a beautiful post, Margot. It has a strong emotional impact.

  7. Patti Abbott

    Lovely story, Margot. We are all outsiders, aren’t we?

  8. A powerful and painful story, Margot. Thanks.

  9. Wonderful post, Margot – thanks for sharing your story. And I wholeheartedly agree that sometimes it’s essential to speak out, so thank you for that too. The story of the kids who’ve gone missing has shocked and horrified me – it’s bad enough to separate them for a while from their parents, but to then lose track of them altogether… sometimes I wonder if we deserve to call ourselves civilised at all.

    • Thanks for the kind words, FictionFan. And I wonder, too, whether we deserve to call ourselves civilised or advanced. That’s why I didn’t feel I could sit by and say nothing about this issue. Like you, I’m horrified and sick at heart about those missing children. I can only hope that they are safe, and will be reunited with their families. I can’t imagine what their parents must be suffering. It was hard enough for me to even contemplate someone taking my child away. To actually be responsible for that happening is unconscionable.

  10. Thanks for sharing this story Margot. The forced separation of families is incredibly cruel. Children suffer long term consequences from such trauma. Yes there are issues that need to be addressed, I’m not denying that but forced separation should not be an option.

    • I agree, TCP. There are other ways in which we can address immigration and refugee issues without being cruel. Our treatment of those most vulnerable is a commentary on our society. And right now, it doesn’t look good.

  11. Thank you for taking the decision to share your story with us, and so glad it had a happy ending for you – as we know from the hints you drop occasionally about your beloved daughter. And well done for speaking out about a policy that is so heartless.

    • I feel very privileged and a lot more that our story had a happy ending, Moira. But ‘privileged’ is exactly the word. Too many people don’t have the advantages my husband and I did, and their stories are so sad. It is, as you say, a heartless policy to remove children from their parents like that. I just cannot comprehend how anyone can conscience that. Hopefully if enough people refuse to let it become ‘the new normal,’ it will stop.

  12. This is an incredibly powerful story, Margot, and I found it very moving as well. Good on you for speaking up about this inhumane policy – especially when so many others can’t.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Mrs. P. And I couldn’t agree with you more about the policy. It is cruel, inhumane, and unconscionable. I truly hope that if enough people refuse to accept it, that it will stop.

  13. As a citizen of Australia, whose policies on refugees and asylum seekers put us to shame globally, I salute every effort in support of humanitarian responses to the refugee crisis, including your blog post, Margot. If everyone in government had the empathy and compassion that you demonstrate in this post, the world would be a much better place.

    • Thank you, Angela. I know just how you feel about your own country having shameful policies. My hope really is that if enough people refuse to be quiet and go away about it, things will change. I know they won’t change if people accept such inhumane policies as ‘normal.’ They’re not. They’re wrong, and I think governments need to be reminded that societies’ treatment of the most vulnerable is a measure of their success.

  14. mudpuddle

    today’s america is a travesty of what it used to be; and it’s the republicans’ fault… if it takes a revolution to restore normalcy, then that’s what needs to happen…

    • It’s definitely not the America I wanted to share with my daughter, Mudpuddle. That’s part of why I wrote this. I don’t want this sort of thing to be considered ‘the new normal.’ It’s not normal, and it’s not right.

  15. Oh Margot, how generous of you to share such an important part of your life with us here. And how terribly upsetting it must be for you to even think of the unthinkable. You are so right – it is not normal – it is inhumane and a form of psychological torture. It make my stomach hurt and my blood boil.

    World history and its lessons has no effect on ignoramuses.

    • No, they don’t have any effect on ignoramuses, Lesley. I just keep hoping that we can be reminded that this is not normal. It’s not all right. As you say, it is inhumane. To separate children from their families is real cruelty, and it makes my stomach hurt, too. I can’t even imagine what those families must be going through. I was worried enough, and I had all of the advantages. To try to get through it all without the language, the citizenship, and so on must be absolutely terrifying. And those people don’t love their children one bit less than I love mine. I hope that, as we keep talking about it, we will insist that it be stopped.

  16. Col

    Very powerful Margot. Thanks for highlighting and sharing.

  17. A well-timed true story Margot and I’m so glad yours was so successful. Although nowhere near as dramatic as yours I’ve had a few occasions to deal with ‘officials’ where I am certain that if I wasn’t as articulate as I am, the outcome would have been more adverse.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Cleo. I’m glad, too, that things turned out well for us. And you’re absolutely right that being articulate made a lot of difference. I feel for those who can’t easily make themselves understood. It must be horrible for them.

  18. Reblogged this on Musings on Life & Experience and commented:
    What is being done now by our government is cruel and inhumane. It needs to be corrected. Children should NEVER be separated from their parents in this way.

  19. Oh, Margot, what a poignant example of the anxiety and suffering of individuals when it’s all about rules and processes rather than basic humanity.

    • Thank you, Marina Sofia. That’s exactly how it felt to me at the time. When we forget that policies and rules impact real people, then real people are the ones who pay the price. And I was one of the lucky, privileged ones. I cannot imagine what it’s like for those who aren’t.

  20. Margot: Thanks for the post. I agree families should not be separated. I wish I knew what was the right way to approach families seeking to enter nations without following the entry rules of a nation.

    • I wish I did, too, Bill. There has to be a way that respects the family’s humanity and dignity, and also respects the nation. It’s a complicated set of questions.

  21. Well-said and poignant, Margot. Thanks for sharing this.

  22. This is a wonderful story, Margot. Thank you for sharing it with us. And I agree with you–we can’t call ourselves civilized when we separate families like they decided to do. I cannot imagine how people fleeing violence in their own country, aiming for ours with hope, feel when the most important things in their lives are torn away. May those who can directly affect these horrid actions finally find the courage to stand up to the bullies, and may the rest of us give them the encouragement to do so.

    • You put that beautifully, Julie. We need to insist on compassionate, humane, dignified treatment of people who enter our country. And we need to not be quiet and go away about it. This isn’t the way a humane society behaves, and it’s certainly not the America I wanted to share with my daughter. I can’t imagine how horrible it must be for people who are desperately trying to get away from violence or worse in their countries, only to face having their children taken from them. It’s unconscionable.

  23. kathy d.

    Agree with you 100%. This is a cruel, inhumane policy. It’s not even a law. It was a policy declared by AG Sessions and pushed by Steve Miller, an ultra-rightist in the White House. Sessions had the nerve to quote the Bible about people needing to obey the law! The essence of Judeo-Christian beliefs, and those of other major religions is the Golden Rule, to treat other people decently and with respect and love.
    As even the NY Times said in an editorial, people have to join protests and call senators and congress members.
    People have to protest in every way they can. Children are crying for their parents in detention centers, soon to be in tent cities in 100-degree heat. Many parents can’t find their children. A whistle-blower who quit his job at a detention center for children is cited in the LA Times on the conditions for children.
    Everyone has to do everything. Protests have begun in several cities. This situation can’t continue. Children and their parents are suffering. Some friends whose relatives fled anti-Semitic pogroms or Europe in the 1930s, think of Germany then. Others think of the Japanese internment in the U.S.
    It’s ominous and outrageous. We all have to speak out.

    • You’re right, Kathy, that it’s important for us to speak out and to act. It’s important for us not to be quiet and go away, as though what’s happening were ‘normal.’ It’s not. I think the policy is cruel and inhumane, and there is no justification for it. The more we refuse to accept this, the more attention will be paid to it, and, hopefully, it will stop.

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