Saturday, February 26, 2011

Counting Sheep

Although this is primarily a knitting blog, every so often I wander off into other, less fibery, topics. And today, I am going to editorialize a bit about citizenship--a subject that gets a fair amount of babble, but most people probably have no idea what being a US citizen really entails.

Yes, you can vote at a certain age. Yes, you can earn money and collect Social Security in some cases. Yup, you can serve in the Armed Forces if you wish. But there is one, single inviolate privilege that US citizenship confers, and I would be willing to bet that few of you can name it. But you will, of course, by the time you finish reading this post, and it may help you in dire circumstances at some point in your life.

I took a short international trip last week, which was unremarkable and not worth even mentioning, except for the part where I deplaned at a United States airport and queued up for immigration. For those US citizens who have never re-entered the country, suffice it to say that it invariably entails briefly standing on line, having your passport stamped, and then zipping off to another destination.

This time, however, when I disembarked, the immigration hall was filled with people--sitting, standing, lying down--hundreds and hundreds of people, waiting in eerie silence. The lines stretched out of the hall, around corners, and, for all I know, back into jetways, stairs, elevators, and rooftops.

No lines moved towards the dozen or so immigration booths. The only noticeable movement was the arrival of yet more deplaned passengers squeezing into a space that bore an uncanny resemblance to a gigantic Tokyo subway car at rush hour.

After a few minutes, I queried an airport supervisor as to the problem, and was told that the relevant immigration computers were down, nationwide, and had been in this sad state for about six hours. He had no idea when the network would come back online, and until that happened, the static occupants of the immigration hall would not be allowed to pass over the magic yellow line onto US soil.

Now, people who know me well would imagine that I would pull out a book and immerse myself in the written word until the situation resolved itself. But it seemed to me that this logjam was just plain wrong on many levels.

We pay the salaries of the people manning those booths. More importantly, we do have real, unassailable rights under the Constitution, although we have lately been giving them away with depressing regularity. The history of the United States rarely portrays the citizenry as a nation of sheep. But when I looked around, I could see a vast assembly of ovines, waiting immobile for orders from Governmental Shepherds.

After a few minutes of cogitation, I pulled out my blue US passport, waved it over my head, and opened my Big Mouth.

"Excuse me, but I am a citizen of the United States. Under no circumstances may I be forbidden entry to this country while I carry a valid passport. In fact, the US cannot turn any US citizen away, regardless of what might happen once that person touches US soil. This Blue Sucker (fleegle waves passport again) entitles me to cross that yellow line, no questions asked."

You could have heard an ant sneeze in the silence. The officers manning the immigration stations stared at me in astonishment--a two-legged sheep bleating constitutional truisms--something that these government workers had clearly never before encountered.

A minute passed. A supervisor finally climbed down from his chair and addressed the crowd:

"All people possessing Blue Suckers over here." He pointed to four of the booths.

And with that, everyone bearing a US Blue Sucker speedily proceeded through the booths, the immigration officers' stamps thumping away in triple time.

I doubt that I will ever again receive a round of applause from hundreds of exasperated passengers, complete with dozens of pats on the back, a few wolf whistles, and many, many smiles. The airport supervisor asked me if I was going to run for Congress. Someone else asked if I was in immigration attorney. Several people shook my hand.

On the down side, I suspect that citizens of other countries sporting Green, Red, and Purple Suckers are still milling about the hall, waiting for the IT geniuses in Washington to figure out who pulled what plug on which database.

So, in the words of Robert Frost:

Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.

I can't speak for other countries, but in the United States, the only perquisite of citizenship is that you must be admitted if you can show such proof. It might be that you are arrested the moment you step on US soil, but you may not be denied entry, no matter what.

The moral of this little story is that sometimes, you can confront Homeland Security, and sometimes you can actually win. Speak up. Know your rights. Welcome home.

71 comments:

Karen said...

Made my day, you did.

loribird said...

Hear, hear! Made my day, too, with your story.

And no, I didn't know that lovely fact, and indeed I have tucked it away in my memory for later use (though I hope I will never need it!)

Also, I think it would be very interesting if you did run for congress.

Connie said...

Wow- I appreciate the lesson. The artist of my painting is Nelson Duran,who is also the owner of the Bank Left Gallery.

auldlangdesigns said...

Outstanding, and good on you! I've never had occasion to need it, as the first time I tried to re-enter the country was on a plane full of Soldiers coming back from the desert, and the other time I was with my mom (which is similar). I really wish more US citizens knew the Constitution well, and could even pass the citizenship test. Maybe we'd take less for granted.

Cheryl S. said...

Excellent! Good for you!

Hopefully I will never need that information, but you never know.

JelliDonut said...

This is the most ballsy thing I've read in a long time. Good for you! I wish I could have seen it. It would have been worth being stuck in that room, just to witness your heroic act. Brava!

momsue84 said...

Well, well said and done!

Clea said...

I'm impressed and inspired. Great job!

isrbrown said...

Wonderful!!!

Linda said...

Very impressive. Count me among those who would never have thought to do anything but follow the sheep. The applause was well deserved.

E said...

You might be interested in this:

More Law: Refusing To Answer Questions At U.S. Passport Control
http://nomadlaw.com/2010/09/more-law-refusing-answer-questions-at-passport-control/

I Am Detained By The Feds For Not Answering Questions
http://nomadlaw.com/2010/04/i-am-detained-by-feds-for-not-answering-questions/

Kitty Kitty said...

Cheer... Cheer... I will have to remember this one you never know when this could come in useful.

Very sad how quickly we are giving up our freedoms!

Reluctant Penguin said...

Bravissima!!!

Anna M said...

Awesome! Best post I've read all week anywhere.

Mary said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
jill said...

Good for you! Aside from the fact that I applaud your hero status to the waiting throng and that I learned something new about being a citizen, I am inspired by your willingness to be an independent thinker. You weren't staging a revolution, you weren't tossing a finger at the "man," you were willing to take a risk and state what is obvious. The Emperor has no clothes. Thank you very much!

Vicki Knitorious said...

Good for you! And thank you! I shall be tucking this away in the memory bank for about a month from now when I may be in need of such information!

Katie K said...

I'm proud of you.

somebunnysloveDOTcom said...

You go girl! And that is EXACTLY why I use my passport instead of my state driver's license as identification when I fly. =:8

cedarstrings said...

Hurray for knowing your rights and clearing the long lines. Yes, we have given over too many of our rights in the name of homeland security. However, demonizing "government workers" seems unfair, given that they are working with an ever-changing set of procedures and that the real cause of the delays seems to be that there were no procedures in place for the "exceptional" circumstances. At least, we can hope that total computer failure was an "exception" and that the "government workers" (or the out-sourced company which staffs this airport) can analyze the trouble and create procedures for preventing the computer failure and for handling it if it does occur.

cedarstrings said...

Hurray for knowing your rights and clearing the long lines. Yes, we have given over too many of our rights in the name of homeland security. However, demonizing "government workers" seems unfair, given that they are working with an ever-changing set of procedures and that the real cause of the delays seems to be that there were no procedures in place for the "exceptional" circumstances. At least, we can hope that total computer failure was an "exception" and that the "government workers" (or the out-sourced company which staffs this airport) can analyze the trouble and create procedures for preventing the computer failure and for handling it if it does occur.

Paula said...

And for those Canadians who may be wondering, our Charter of Rights and Freedoms has this to say:

6. (1) Every citizen of Canada has the right to enter, remain in and leave Canada.

srapalmateer said...

One little voice spoke and there was change! Brava!

sgt-majorette said...

Bravissima!

domesticshorthair said...

That's fantastic! Thank you for posting about this. How inspiring.

Laritza said...

Good for you! I have a blue one now, but for many years I only had a purple one. You can not even begin to imagine the nightmares I went through at different points of entry to the country. I love my two countries and proudly carry both colors when I travel. Have to admit, the blue one performs a lot better!

gayle said...

I didn't know the constitutional grounds, but as I was reading I was thinking "They couldn't be holding back American citizens - they're not immigrating - they're coming home." It's good to know that, amidst all the rights we've given away in the name of so-called 'security', we've still got that right.
Thank you for speaking up, and for sharing with us!

Janice in GA said...

Well done!

k n i t t e r p a t s y said...

Good for you!

Rosemary said...

Astonishing. Amazing. I want to be you when I grow up. Thanks.

Rosemary

Alarming Female said...

This is quite a lovely story. Thank you for this useful information.

Tricia said...

I found your stand very touching, and I am not even from the US.

The post made me double-check my rights as a Citizen of Australia, and it is as I expected...

As an Australian citizen you have the right to:

apply for an Australian passport and re-enter Australia freely

Candace said...

You made my day! Not only made my day---but read it to my husband and you made his day too! File this one under: helpful/educational/love/interesting/agree

DonnaC said...

FANTASTIC!

Dorothy said...

Wow! Just Wow!

WendyKnits said...

I bow down to your awesomeness!

Iris said...

Absolutely fabulous!

Anita said...

You'd have my vote! Awesome!

Lori said...

Excellence at the airport. Well done!

Jessica said...

Fantastic!!!

Ann said...

Good to know! Thanks for the posted info, & congrats on being assertive enow to use it!

Elizabeth said...

Bravo! You not only know how to knit but how to open your mouth when it is very important to stand up for your rights.

Armelle said...

I'm curious... would situations like this make it easier for people with fake passports to get through check-in?

It's very cool that you stood up for yourself and spoke out like that. I hope it inspired the others to be brave like that in the future. :)

Kathleen said...

Having just renewed my passport, I especially enjoyed this story. Awesome!

Tracey said...

Well Done!!! You are my newest Hero! (and in these trying times, we need more quality heroes) Thank you!

Experimental Knitter said...

I bow to your constitutional greatness. (Applauds loudly.)
Fleegle for president!!

Lovs2Knit said...

Excellent! Unfortunately there aren't enough people in the world that will stand up for themselves let alone other people. Well done!

knitalot3 said...

AWESOME! I admire your courage. I am a sheep, but I do have a Blue Sucker.

sayingthings said...

So much love for you today, Fleegle. Well done.

Laurie said...

GREAT post. I read it to the DH and we both cackled. I will work towards having your courage (and your knowledge base).

Christine said...

WOO HOO! Way to stand up for your rights!

PenCraft said...

I'm standing at my computer applauding you too! Awesome.

Anna van Schurman said...

Since I can't do those loud whistles in real life: {whistle} {whistle} {whistle}. Hoorah!

Leslie said...

I'm so glad Harry wasn't with you -- he would never have been as well behaved.

LittleBerry said...

This really made me smile and I can quite picture you doing just exactly that :o))))

Lisa R-R said...

Terrific story - so glad to hear it!

UN Declaration of Human Rights
http://www.un.org/en/documents/udhr/index.shtml
Article 13. (2) Everyone has the right to leave any country, including his own, and to return to his country.

Oonagh said...

Absolutely made my day! Now looking at the UK regs...
Knitters Rule!

Rob Knits said...

Fleegle, I love you forever.

KPiep said...

What a great story! Thanks for sharing!

Nik said...

I will forgive you for the interuption of fibery content if you keep informing us so well. Good job.

Jane said...

Bravo! Your courage takes my breath away!

madonnaearth said...

OMG, you rock!

Also, I would have hated for the lights to go out. No telling how long people would have been standing around in the dark.

Mia said...

It is funny how everyone is now trained to wait for the computers to tell them things.

They have forgotten that they can use their minds. You ought to have heard the lecture I got when I was in college by a retired Army guy about how my US passport was not valid simply because of my birthplace, Um, he had not clue and he was in charge of security at the DoD contractor I was working at for the summer. The Department of State said otherwise. And I had the paperwork to back up my story in my purse. Boyt that was fun pissing that guy off. Not my problem is kids were born off base. (He even dared to question my birth certificate which is kind of funny since it was issued by the State Department.)

Know your rights and assert them!

Mia said...

I wonder how many native born Americans could pass the test required for new citizens? I doubt even 50% could pass it.

We expect immigrants to know more than we require of native born.

N. Maria said...

Fantastic! Bravo! I will be making a mental note of this since I am awaiting the arrival of my Blue Sucker! Love it!
If that happens to me, I will definitely SPEAK UP!

jeannette said...

http://www.angelfire.com/ma2/Gem/windbeneathmywings.html

jeannette said...

http://www.angelfire.com/ma2/Gem/windbeneathmywings.html

. . . Lisa and Robb . . . said...

I have to ask, did you and the official actually say "Blue Sucker?"

notme said...

Wow, fleegle, way to go--er--return!

I have a couple of questions if you have a minute. First, which airport was your re-entry point? And second, did you then go through customs and quarantine and have to stand in a separate line for that?

Great story, anyway. Thanks for sharing!

YarnJunkie said...

Rock on, Fleegle.

Rosemary said...

I can't begin to tell you how many times I've told this story. Thanks!