I went to China in May.
It was a lovely trip full of walking, sightseeing, eating, shopping, and immersing myself in Chinese culture. The flight home was arduous. There was the four a.m. wake up, a two-hour jaunt to the next city, a layover, an unexpected wait in the airplane, and a fourteen-hour flight to Vancouver, Canada.
I was so relieved when I was back in my home country. I waited in the long line to go through customs. When I made it to the front, I was asked some brief questions and handed a card. It bore a cryptic code of numbers and letters. I noticed right away that not everyone was getting them.
I tried to keep calm and reassure myself that I was now in my birth country, and I had nothing to be afraid of. It was Canada!
I moved along smoothly with all the other people coming off of the flight. There was one more passport check point, and we were all clear. When I handed over my passport and card to the border officer he gave it a quick look, and handed it back. He motioned to a set of steel doors.
“Through those,” he said.
“Excuse me?” I couldn’t comprehend that he was talking to me.
“Through those,” he repeated.
All of my past fear with American borders came flooding back. I remembered being detained by homeland security and interrogated. I remembered the threats of prison. Then the deportation.
I pushed open the doors and entered a room I was familiar with. You see, every time I come home from abroad, I’m pulled aside. In my own country. The country I was born in. I should’ve been prepared for this.
I dragged my luggage behind me as I walked up to a metal table. A female officer stood beside it. I handed her the card and passport and she looked me up in the computer. She asked the same barrage of questions I was always asked. Am I a Canadian citizen? Am I an American citizen? Do I have problems at the border? Why do I have problems at the border? Where did I just come from? Why? When was the last time I was in the states? What did I do in the states? Am I married? Is my partner American? Where is my daughter? Where does she live? How old is she? Was I barred from the U.S.? How come I can now go to the U.S.? How often do I travel?
I’m seriously questioned every time, and the gut punch is, I have no criminal record. All of the charges against me were dropped. Zero convictions of anything. Ever. Everything they’re looking up about me and my past, about the time I went on the run to protect my daughter, happened twenty-two years ago. Twenty-Two. Years. Ago. No criminal record.
I called on all of my bravery and asked, “How long am I going to keep being questioned like this? I’m Canadian.”
The border guard looked up at me. “It says here until 2030.”
My mouth dropped. This would continue until I was sixty years old. By then it would have been thirty-five years of border harassment. Holy shit.
I closed my mouth and composed myself. “So, am I free to go?”
She raised a brow and shrugged. “Unless you’re arrested.”
She walked ahead, but hung on to my passport. I followed behind her towards the exit. I kept wondering why I would be arrested. What had I done wrong? Was someone going to jump out and put me in hand cuffs?
She came to a stop at an imaginary line on the floor and turned to me. She held out my passport.
“You can leave now.”
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