When Your Passport Privilege is Revoked
I am an American citizen. I am an avid traveler. This means, for the entirety of my adult life, I have been able to think of a country I want to visit, book a flight, and just go. Yes, there are sometimes visa requirements but often times that simply looks like paying a few bucks upon arrival for a visa stamp (Indonesia), paying a few bucks and mailing my passport to a consulate to get a visa (India) or applying online with my passport number. I have arrived to countries and not realized I needed a visa (Turkey) to which I was simply redirected by a kind customs officer to a different line, paid a few bucks for a visa stamp, and then let into the country. There have been times where I overstayed my visa (Indonesia) and was basically laughed at and let go. These circumstances all fall under passport privilege. Because of my passport, I have had the privilege to travel basically wherever, whenever.
Recently, due to the United States of America becoming a global hotspot for the coronavirus pandemic, my passport no longer holds this privilege. Currently, I am banned from traveling to most countries in the world. I had a window of opportunity earlier this month, when the Bahamas opened their borders July 1st to international travelers with a negative COVID test and a travel visa. Two hoops to jump through, I got this. Planning this trip was the most stressful, intense experience to get to another country I’ve ever experienced. We had a 10-day window from testing day until border crossing. All the while, Florida was spiking with cases, our test results were lagged, our window closing, but we finally got our results. We applied for the travel visa. Some of us were approved and some of us were denied with no explanation. We made the trip, and were (what felt like miraculously) accepted by customs officials.
The day after arriving back to the states, Bahamas closed their borders once again. I barely squeaked in, my passport allowing me a 19-day window of travel. Now, we’re back to what is the “new normal”— my passport does not allow me entry.
I’ve realized, for quite some time, that perspective is so powerful. And here I am again, sitting in a place that allows me a new vantage point on life. I get to now experience, what countless of my international friends have had to go through as “normal”. Such as my friend in the Phillippines who has repeatedly paid $160 for a US travel visa only to be denied after the mandatory consulate interview, or my friend who went through four years of university in the states and was deported back home, no greencard permitted, although his entire family lives here, owns property, and have all been educated here.
Other countries are scared of my passport right now. I represent sickness, I represent danger, I represent chaos. They ban me to protect their own. Why else would a country deny a passport from entering?
The United States denies nearly 4 million visa applications a year and lately, Islamic countries have been a target under Trump’s new travel ban. Reuters wrote, “Trump’s initial January 2017 executive order banning entry to the United States by citizens of several Muslim-majority countries launched a fierce fight in federal courts over whether the policy amounts to an unlawful ‘Muslim ban’ or is a legal exercise of presidential power.”
We fear you, we deny you a travel visa. They fear us, they deny us a travel visa.
I have a bold belief, inspired by the writing of Charles Eisenstein, that travel can end war. Or, to put it simply — as information is more easily spread, our desire for war, or, for “othering” decreases. We can no longer paint over an entire culture as the enemy when we also know that America is denying travel visas to people like Rasha Jarhum, a Yemeni human rights defender who was denied a U.S. visitor visa to attend events on women’s rights.
Right now, I’m humbly accepting this moment without passport privilege. It is, exactly that — humbling. This is what it feels like. This is what it feels like not to be welcome, to be feared, to be unwanted. It doesn’t matter how much money I may potentially inject into your economy, it doesn’t matter if I have family or friends that live in your country, it doesn’t matter if I was educated there…I am not welcome.
So, to all my American counterparts, instead of lamenting this moment of being denied our “normal” privilege to travel wherever, whenever…I encourage you to feel what it feels like to be feared. And then vote accordingly this November.