July 15, 2016
By Wondemneh Pawlose
It was the summer of 2012, I just returned from a trip in Antigua, Guatemala. After my plane touched U.S. soil, I made my way towards the security checking area, which was designated for non-U.S. travelers. As the usual routine goes, I gave them my passport, I-20 (basically a paperwork showing that I’m here legally), and my I-95 (which is a log of my traveling data.) After the officer took a glance at my paperwork they called another Homeland Security officer to escort me to a room where all non-U.S. passengers go until future instructions. I was terrified at the moment because my 17 years of self was not ready to deal with officials at airports, especially at a time when being a foreigner is enough reason for them to do whatever they want.
In about 30 minutes, an officer came and took me to another area for further inspection. This room was scarier than the previous one.I felt as though I was walking into a funeral where no one knows each other and they’re forced to be there. I sat there for a while thinking of the various ways the situation could turn. In the midst of me zoning out I heard my name in a loud and aggressive way. I made my way to the officer who called me and answered the question she asked me one by one. The officer was yelling out the questions and it made me more nervous and worried. She asked me questions like “where are you from?” and “why didn’t you go to school for 6 months?” I was just shocked to hear the second part because I’ve never missed a day of school; I was even given an award for perfect attendance that year. I explained as much as I could at the moment to the officer, but she seemed to get angrier the more I spoke. She then told me to have a seat and I did accordingly.
Moments later another officer came and told me to follow him. I felt like I was at a Broadway show or something because of the different officers coming and taking me to places. The part that scared me the most was this office space where the officer took me. It was a small room with cameras all over the room with only a table and chair; I felt like I was being treated as a terrorist. Fortunately the person who came to talk to me in this room was very nice and heard my side of the story and explained to me that I was the first International Student for my high school and they didn’t know they were supposed to report to Homeland Security that I was attending school regularly. He then told me to fix the issue soon and let me go, after an hour and half at various offices in the airport.
This experience was one of the terrifying moments in my life and I don’t ever want to experience it again. I felt so discriminated against as a foreigner at the airport for over an hour. I understand they had to do their jobs to make sure what I was saying was true, but I bet that wouldn’t have happened if I were a U.S. citizen. It is sad how the fear and discrimination towards foreigners keeps on going in this 21st century modern world we’re living in.