Judgement and Grace in a Rubber Stamp

It’s difficult to comprehend all the political jousting about immigration policy. And even something as simple as people yearning to breathe free seems to be smothered in sound and fury. Sometimes it helps to hear a story from someone you can relate to…here is one by Rich Little.

I was detained by immigration at Miami airport. I was returning from a mission trip to Jamaica leading a group of 18 Harding University students. I had applied for my green card several months earlier and was unable to leave the States. If I left while my application was being processed (which took one year) my application would be canceled. I had to apply for a special exception to this rule called “advanced parole” (yes, the same word used for prisoners and detainees).

After expediting my advanced parole application with the help of U.S. Senator Hutchinson whose son attended Harding I felt confident in my ability to re-enter the US. 18 Harding students and Heather waited in the U.S. Citizens line while I lined up with the Foreign Nationals. I handed my Australian passport and advanced parole papers to the immigration officer. He looked at the papers and scanned my passport. He then reached under his desk and pushed a button. He took my passport and papers and placed them in a sealed envelope. I asked him if there was a problem. He said I needed to speak to a supervisor.

The supervisor arrived and escorted me to a separate room. He told me to take a seat. I was panicked because we had a one hour connection and I was the leader of a group of 18 students who had just been detained. I had no way to contact Heather. A man sat beside me. I asked him where he was from. “Antigua,” he said. He told me he didn’t have the correct visa. An immigration officer called him to the desk and told him he would have to return to Antigua unless he purchased a visa immediately. The visa cost $80. He didn’t have the money. I approached him and told him I had the money to give him. He refused it. I told him if he didn’t take it he would be returning to Antigua. He knew. He didn’t like the thought of someone else giving him money. He was escorted out and placed on a plane back to Antigua.

I was then called to the desk. 45 minutes had passed. I was hoping Heather and the group had gone to their gate and would leave without me. Rescheduling 19 people to fly together on the next flight would be virtually impossible. The immigration officer opened my envelope and asked me why I was entering the US. I wanted to say, “Because I live here!

Because U.S. Senator Hutchinson expedited my parole. Because all my papers are in order and I shouldn’t be in here!” I didn’t. I said, gently and calmly, afraid of being escorted out and placed on a plane to somewhere, “My wife and I live in Arkansas and I’m returning to my home and work.” He said, and I quote, “We don’t have to let you in, you know. But by the grace of the INS you have been allowed to re-enter.”

He took a rubber stamp and stamped my papers and passport and handed them back to me. I can’t tell you the feelings of loneliness that comes over someone in that situation. Alone. Unable to contact anyone. Unsure of the outcome. Feeling like a criminal. And my papers were in order! I ran through the airport and to the front of the security line to enter my departing terminal.

I discovered our flight had been delayed by thirty minutes. I approached the gate and everyone asked what happened. I simply said “paper work.” I boarded the plane and slumped down into my seat. I look out my window and saw a plane next to me wondering if my Antiguan friend was on there on his way back.

I am an immigrant. I am a wealthy, white, Christian, immigrant from a “safe” country who had access to power. Because I am a wealthy, white, Christian immigrant from a safe country who had access to power I can only begin to imagine how a non-Christian refugee family from Syria must feel when they learn that their application has now been denied.

I can only begin to imagine how the Iraqi businessman green card holder feels now sitting in a hotel room in Berlin unable to come home to the States to be with his children and wife.

There are many great evils in the world. Confronting these evils while crushing humanity in the wheels of despair has never achieved the greatness my new country has modeled. It breeds a harmful and inhumane result, the scars of which are born on the thousands and millions of innocents whose lives are damaged as a result.

There must be ways to confront evil while continuing to honor and protect and elevate the tired, the poor, the huddled masses yearning to breathe free.

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