I returned to America today with my wife, Juliana Rast, and our two nieces, Isis and Sophia. My wife has a 10-year green card, and my nieces both have recently obtained US visas. My nieces are 14 and 7 respectively.
We walked up to customs and when it was our turn, an official called us up. I don't remember his name, but I remember him distinctly. He was white, probably in his 40s, very stocky, with light blonde hair but slightly balding. The process proceeded fairly normally to begin. He seemed to be extremely thorough, albeit that's his job. There was nothing deficient on our end anyways.
While inspecting, he asked how long our nieces were staying, to which my wife replied a couple weeks. That perked his interest and he followed up by asking for exactly how long, and when was their return flight. At which point my wife looked at me and told me in Portuguese that our assistant had booked the travel and she didn't know exactly. I then took hold of the conversation and explained exactly that. He then sarcastically remarked, "Don't they go to school!?" I perceived it as non-rhetorical so responded that they did but it's their "summer time" so they are off on vacation.
At some point during this, to make clear that this was not going to be a normal situation, an old lady who clearly was a bit lost and confused just walked up to stand with our group of four. The agent immediately asked if she was with us before we had time to deal with it, and we said no. He then barked quite meanly at her to get out, which had no effect other than clearly scaring and confusing her more. My wife then explained to her she needed to wait behind the yellow line, which helped her figure out what to do and after a little bit she backed up to wait.
So after a little bit, he decided to resume this conversation, he sat back and looked straight at me. His eyes were intense and beady, and he began to tell me the way things are now.
(him) "You know son, when you travel you should have the return flights booked. I travelled to Japan a month back, I had my return flight booked. That's normal."
(me)-"Sorry again, our assistant booked the flight. The information is with him and we don't have it." (aside: I'm thinking to myself that I actually book 1-ways pretty normally now, even internationally. In fact I was just returning from Mexico City on double 1-ways. It's more convenient as I often don't know my departure date, and now you often don't get a roundtrip discount anyways)
"You can't just bring people in and keep them here."
-"Sir, they have parents and family back home. They are our nieces who we brought to visit for vacation. Their family wants them back, they are going back home."
"Things are going to change around here. You'll see what I mean." (He was still glaring directly at me in a pretty confrontational way)
"While they are here, they are your responsibility. If anything happens, if they overstay their VISA, you're legally responsible."
-"That's fine. I accept that responsibility." (slightly exasperated)
"Trump's the president now. You know that?" (he said with a lot of apparent satisfaction)
(I think he said 1 or 2 other typical continuation things here after the Trump intro. that I can't remember because I was pretty upset at this point)
"These types of things aren't going to last for much longer. You can count on that son. Just watch yourself."
At this point, I could feel my ears warm with frustration and anger. I wanted to say something more. I wanted to ask him what's wrong with him. I wanted to tell this guy to his face he's an asshole. But I had the presence luckily to think about the asymmetrical power of the situation, and my desire to not have a problem that would involve not only me but all 4 of us - I held my tongue.
And after a few moments he leaned forward and gathered everything up, because apparently he had already finished processing everything and had done that whole bit at the end to simply share his thoughts with me, grill me, and provoke me.
If after reading this your thoughts are, wow that guy went way over the top - but on the other hand, he did have a decent bone to pick about the return flight not being presented (and maybe even let us off the hook) - then let me tell you this:
A tourist visa (B-2) allows entry up to 180 days, and does not require an onward ticket to enter.
That makes sense because it's so easy to change, cancel, or just miss a flight that this requirement would be next to meaningless as a deterrent anyways.
I wasn't aware of this at the time, and was generally unsure about what to do. So another reason I shut up and took his verbal abuse and didn't make any problems to just get through the situation and in to the country with my family - is because I thought maybe I did need that return flight. Maybe this guy was ultimately letting me off the hook...
No, that's not it Stockholm. So not only did he go over the top - he outright abused the power of his station to give me a diatribe on his feelings about immigration, the presidency, and us personally through connection. Which in retrospect makes all the sense in the world to me, because if he could have held us up and legally made our entry difficult, he would have for sure. That much is clear by his attitude and how thoroughly he was looking through everything to find some problem. He just needed a verbal pretense to have an excuse to display the evil smallness that exists inside of him. There's at least a reasonable chance that he's bigoted, and he's at the very least ignorant.
Unfortunately, I'm sure that this situation isn't that uncommon. Because there are people like that all over the country (and the world to be fair). I'm fortunate enough in this regard to be white, male, born in the USA, and economically solid - while living in the USA - so I likely run in to this less than just about anyone. And in fact, only experienced it because of my company earlier today. I imagine there are some people reading this that are thinking "This kind of shit (on some level) happens to me once a ______". Followed by "First time and this privileged guy complains. Imagine if he had my experiences..." I'd like to say that I'm aware. I'm not posting this for pity - I want and deserve none of that. I'm posting emotionally because I'm sad, annoyed, and this is cathartic. Even more, I'm posting logically because I want to discuss this next part of it. What are now my analyses...
It's very telling that at the end he made sure to tell me that Trump is the president.
(Interjection!) this isn't about politics. It's about being a human being.
We are creatures capable of love, reason, and compassion - and that capacity creates a moral spectrum on which we are judged by our behavior and actions. It's unfortunate that proponents of bigotry of all kinds have found support in his presidency. In fact, many worse things than this have happened by ignorants like nazis who now think their insane and cruel beliefs have support (only takes a brief internet search to find stuff much worse than this). Things that I imagine Trump doesn't even personally support - but he's Machiavellian and duplicitous enough to not castigate in order to maintain that support. The problem is that looking the other way for groups that are usually denounced likely feels like acceptance. And so ultimately it's not too unlike support, at least in the result.
More than anything, I'm just sad. I spend time sometimes thinking about the possible amazing futures humanity is about to embark on. We've come so far, yet have so much more room to grow.
Growing technically as a civilization - our progress has been staggering. And it is getting faster! We're about to unleash AI, cybernetics, genetics, expanding to other stars. Bizarre and fantastic sci-fi imaginings will be reality. Our imagination will guide us within the bounds of possibility.
Growing politically and economically - you can follow the incredible evolution of politics and economics to where we are today... and I believe going forward with the birth of decentralized consensus mechanisms and their implementation reforming the way commerce and even democracy are applied. Centralization - once a strength - now a weakness.
Growing culturally as we progressively kill off prejudices and bigotry in the name of fairness and justice. You can see the slow march of progress culturally in terms of race, religion, gender...
"People are people so why should it be, that you and I should get along so awfully?
So we're different colors, and we're different creeds. And different people have different needs. It's obvious you hate me though I've done nothing wrong. I never even met you so what could I have done?
I can't understand what makes a man hate another man
Help me understand."
Then I see things like this, and realize how primitive and small-minded so many humans are. A lot of those amazing futures will require us to not blow each other up or cause amaggedon as the technical capability to do so becomes easier to obtain and spreads... and what's more, work together to solve massive scale problems. Moments like this remind me how much we need to evolve individually and as a group.
I feel more brotherhood to my loving, empathetic, intelligent (for a dog) German Shepherd Maya than I do to this primitive man I met today at the airport. To someone that doesn't know my dog I'm sure this sounds flippant, but I think anyone that has met my dog would agree. Maya hates when people argue. She's never bitten or advanced on a person. She is in tune with our emotions. She will come lick our face if we are sad. Just today we were depressed getting home from this, and she started whimpering. So my wife led us to all follow her. I thought she wanted food. But instead of going to the kitchen or let her outside, she wanted instead to take us to a comfy corner my wife has made in our house and for us to relax there together. I think she knows we are generally in better spirits there and wanted to help. She gives tons of love to our family, like many dogs, but is also friendly and awesome with new people too. I could go on but I think I've established my point. I'm sure this man's IQ is much higher, but his EQ and compassion are much lower.
Who is the more advanced being?
I hope that the evolution of the emergent properties of humanity with regards to cooperation, compassion, acceptance, justice, fairness, aspiration can keep pace with the onslaught of problems that come along with our breathtaking technical progress and achievements.
At this point, I'd encourage you to read this article I wrote a little over a year ago that discusses this idea a bit.
Countries are awesome cultural structures that have historically been critical in the progression of the human race. But we are rapidly advancing to a point where countries are not only vestiges of the past, but are actively holding us back from our progression.
So let me tie these two separate ideas together to close. This man clearly has a problem with immigration and people staying in our country. There's at least a reasonable chance that he's bigoted, and he's at the very least ignorant. Even to the point that he harassed me in a situation that objectively looks pretty ridiculous. I'm a US citizen married to a Brazilian. We've been in the USA together and married for over 6 years now, and are bringing two young girls who are presumably (from his point of view) our nieces with us. They both have been cleared by immigration and have visas. This doesn't seem like the most likely illegal immigration situation, given they both have families and would need to go to school.
I'm also going to now get political and say that the idea that immigrants entering the USA is a problem is backwards and silly. Jobs are going to keep leaving from regular working people. It's been cheaper labor overseas, but will continue regardless of our protectionist policies because of machines and AI. What WORK is for the vast majority of human beings (especially in rich countries like the USA) will change in our lifetimes (next 30-80 years) from a functional job generally of necessity to earn money to primarily being the pursuit of one's desires, dreams, and ambitions - made out of choice much more than necessity. We can see that increasing already around the world (my life is squarely in work = choice camp. I am grateful). It empowers people and leads to more happiness and fulfillment, as your job becomes a volitional part of your identity.
In any event, what work is - is changing. It's changing along with everything around us at a faster and faster pace. It's exhilarating, astonishing, and alarming all at the same time. Small minded people the world over are part of a recent reactionary movement that's elected nativist politicians like Trump in many other countries. I sincerely hope this is just a reactionary retrace rather than a redirection of our collective destinies. I hope that everyone will slowly realize that countries as centralized power structures for many reasons are not the best way to organize as a species anymore. I believe through their competition they create a inferior equilibrium than more cooperation would entail. A classic prisoner's dilemma situation. There are many paths forward from where we are. I remain hopeful that we will choose from the better of the options.
Our imagined borders are meaningless strokes that we've brushed on the world in our infinite creativity.
Our insubstantial differences are external constructions that we've built around the other in our paltry fantasy.
Our cruel reactions are devastating blows that we've dealt to each other in our boundless cruelty.
It is time to use this ingenuity for more purposeful, meaningful ends.
Our immense capacity for evolution towards more enlightened states of being is both daunting and inspiring.
Carl Sagan - Pale Blue Dot (not the first time I've shared and likely not the last. It just never gets old. Watch for a magnificent feeling of awe.)