Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Excluded from the United States!

I cannot begin to imagine the feelings of those poor people fleeing from persecution in places like Syria and then suddenly finding their dreams of getting to the United States devastated. Actually I can begin to, but only just. In 1984 my wife and I were living in Oregon and that summer we travelled to a conference in Switzerland followed by a visit to friends in England. On the last day I called in at the US Embassy in London and was suddenly told that we were not travelling on the right visa and wouldn’t be allowed in. It was a terrible shock. We were not victims of a change of policy but of a dispute between the State Department and the Immigration authorities as to what a kind of visa we should be using. We were stranded even though I was supposed to be getting back for meetings in Portland of organizations for which I was responsible. We had left our daughter at summer camp and we had to swiftly ask a cousin in Canada to come down to look after her in our Portland home.

Unlike those whose plans have been upended by current presidential fiat and who have had few people to stand up for them, we at least had some allies who could speak for us. It wasn’t straightforward, the picture looked bleak, the American consul could not override the desk officer who had turned us down, there were no numbers left in the quota for British entries for the year. Our senator, our governor, our mayor, 'The Oregonian', and various other civic authorities got into the act. Our then 12-year old daughter even wrote to the president. But despite all that backing it still took two months to get home. We had to wait until the new allowance for visitors from Britain was drawn up, however, but the unexpected benefit was that we were granted green cards which we had not even asked for, the only way that could be found to get us in. It had been a very upsetting period particularly because in all those weeks there was never any certainty that we would ever get back to our home.

In the last few weeks we have heard many people express their fears about what has been happening, whether it was those who fear persecution because of their faith or our daughter who is gay hearing some of the new president’s views and aims for their community. She and our whole American family participated in the Women’s March in Washington. It was great to see on a video our granddaughter, 11, standing on a wall in Washington DC with a megaphone calling out 'Tell me what democracy looks like' and the crowd chanting back 'This is what democracy looks like.' Although I rarely participate in marches, as we prefer other ways to encourage change, my wife and I joined in Devon’s Barnstaple march in solidarity with our daughter.

I have also known the positive side of American treatment of foreigners in need when my brother and I were evacuees taken in by an American family for five years from 1940 to 1945. It is why I say we have our own special relationship and my forthcoming book on the subject is going to be called appropriately 'A Harvest of Friendships, A Story of World war II Evacuees, American generosity, and British Gratitude'.

It is particularly sad to see the image of the United States tarnished in this way and even having our Queen possibly drawn into the act. I sympathize and agree with both our prime minister in trying to keep alive our 'special relationship' and our foreign minister who makes it clear that even a vital partner needs to feel our disapproval of acts which cross the line of good government.