One of the benefits of living in a foreign country, besides the striking people and homemade dishes, is being able to display around-the-clock affection for your home country. Not that expats plunge onward in blind patriotism, in fact, it is the opposite. Many of us are aware of our country’s, dare I say, shortcomings, but choose to love her anyway. In my on-going effort to maintain my Americanism, I find I celebrate American holidays, such as the one today, a tad bit more than I would, even if I was in the states.
“In America… ” is a running joke in our house and you should hear Peppe try to mimic my southeast Texas twang when he repeats it. He is patient and understanding in allowing me to say what I want to about his country, no matter how harsh it might be, while defending my own with a, “In America we….”
Our latest conversation regarded the well-known Murder in Perugia, where American student Amanda Knox can legally be held up to one year without being charged for a crime. In America it is 48 hours.
Our debate flowed into discussion of the not-so-well-known incarceration of Catanzaro-native, Domenico Salerno. According to multiple reports, Salerno has made frequent visits to the Washington DC area where his American girlfriend lives. This apparently triggered an alarm for the border agent, who has full discretion regarding who can enter the US, and Salerno was stopped and questioned. There was some confusion regarding asylum, which the non-English speaking Salerno denied, and authorities later admitted was a mistake. However, Salerno was held for 10 DAYS in a Virginia jail.
According to Angelica De Cima, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection who spoke with the NY Times, there are more than 60 reasons a border agent can find someone inadmissible to the United States, including a hunch the person plans to work. A hunch. Are you kidding me?
She continued to say that because these “arriving aliens” are not considered to be in the United States, even when they are in custody, they have none of the legal rights even illegal immigrants have.
This case is disturbing to me for so many reasons, but admittedly the core of my issue with this concerns my Italian husband and his numerous entries into the US. Peppe and I had a four-year long distance relationship. He visited America – a lot!
Upon recalling the many times both of us have flown into new countries and/or returned to our own, we came to a startling and alarming conclusion. No country we have ever visited hassles foreigners like the US does.
Standard questions are expected, although here is a brief rundown of some of Pep’s own experiences entering the United States.
>> In 2002, Peppe planned to visit me in Texas for three months (as to not out-stay the 90-day legal visa waiver allowance). Upon entering the Atlanta airport, we were stalled for an hour while agents questioned Peppe about the nature of his extended-stay trip. They called me into the room and questioned me about the length of time I’d known him, what his father did for a living, what my father did and how much cash he was carrying. We were not allowed to make a phone call to my mother in Texas to inform her we missed our connecting flight. It was embarrassing.
>> In 2003, he was extensively searched before he entered the plane to return to Italy. At check-in, officers dumped his suitcases and had him refill them. I should add this was at the end of summer, when he had a very nice tan.
>> In 2007, Peppe flew to the states for our wedding. In the middle of “this” trip, he and I took a honeymoon vacation to Belize. He failed to carry his return ticket to Italy with him, since he would be returning to Texas for three days before his flight. He was held for over two hours, despite the fact he could point border guards to the exact website where his return ticket could be found. In his nearly-perfect English, he explained the situation, yet was asked repeatedly if he was from Mexico.
Possibly his worst mistake came when the border agent asked, yet again, if he was Mexican.
“No,” Pep replied. “As you can see from the passport you are holding, I am Italian.”
Well, a man can only take so much.
They eventually searched his wallet and questioned his Esso Rewards Card.
“What is this?” The man asked, holding up the wallet-sized card.
“We say “Esso” in Italian. You call it Exxon. It is a gas card.”
“Ah, ok then. You can go.”
I have flown into numerous countries in North America and Europe and have always felt welcomed by border agents. In fact, most of the time I feel welcomed by US agents when I reenter my country. All but one US guard in my recent memory, has joked with me, told me not to drink too much limoncello, or congratulated me on my engagement. Why can’t they extend that same courtesy to our visitors? Why do they greet me like a friend, but greet Peppe and other tourists with a snarly and distrusting attitude? I just want to know why. Yes, we want to be safe, but so does Germany, France, Italy, England, and Canada… just a few of the countries I’ve entered without being humiliated or mistreated. There has to be a middle ground. They just need to find it.
What have been your experiences with border control, both in the US and abroad? Has anyone you know been treated unfairly? What do you think of this?