American Soil And Liberty
The blessings of living in America are many: including material, political, and spiritual. I have one very specific example of my sense of the material blessings of living in America: it was January of 1990, and I was returning from Equatorial Guinea, West Africa, after having decided to quit the U.S. Foreign Service. The decision to leave the State Department had been, without a doubt, the most difficult one of my life in that I was leaving a career to which many aspire, but to which few are invited. My reasons for deciding that my destiny lay elsewhere were complex and not the subject of today's article, but my time in Africa had been absolutely amazing, highlighted by things like watching Alex's first footsteps, exploring my first volcano, seeing monkeys in my backyard, and dining with presidents. But Malabo was as remote as Africa gets, and the mere process of obtaining food to eat was a daily challenge for us.
Once a month, as Administrative Officer of the Embassy, I chartered a single-engine Cessna, usually piloted by a hungover Frenchman, and we would fly from the small island airport over to the mainland to Douala, Cameroon. There, we would spend the day loading up the small airplane with coolers full of fresh meat, cheeses, fruits, and vegetables. We would then fly the ancient little Cessna back late in the afternoon, amidst thunderstorms. As a pilot today, it's a wonder that our overloaded flights never went awry.
Our provisions lasted a month, bolstered by the few things we could get locally: wonderful, fresh baked baguettes at the local bakery, fish we could catch ourselves, and onions and eggs (brought from Nigeria by dugout canoe, six out of twelve were rotten) at the local outside market, where the women and children would run to touch Alex's blonde hair.
When I arrived back in Florida and stepped inside Publix after having lived that way, I was astonished to feel tears running down my face, so overwhelming was my sense of gratitude and understanding of the way we really live when compared to the rest of the world. Most Americans just have no idea.
Politically, most of us are also unaware. We take it for granted that we can write a letter to the Editor, blasting any politician or saying whatever we choose to say, and not fear for our lives, or that someone is going to appear in the middle of the night and arrest us for "subversive activity." (That is exactly how the Cuban government has operated for the last 40 years.)
In fact, many governments do not afford these rights of liberties to others entering their nation, while they boast of being "free countries" to their own citizens. In the U.S., you make it past our borders, and you are protected by our laws, no matter who you are.
I remember in my first tour as a visa officer in Juarez, Mexico, when I trained Border Patrol officers on the detection of fraudulent visa and identification. I was a veteran at the ripe old age of 25 teaching a bunch of "greenies," recent hires averaging 21-22 years of age. (There were a few old geezers in their 30s, as well.) One of their biggest frustrations was the fact that Mexicans and Central Americans would illegally cross into the United States, right in front of the border officer's eyes and would immediately be entitled to due process under full deportation proceedings. That meant detention, right to trial, meals, healthcare, etc. Why, they asked, did U.S. taxpayers have to go through all that expense for an individual who had not even entered legally into the U.S.? We had great philosophical debates on those Saturdays about the difference between deportation and "exclusion" which treated these folks as if they had never really entered the U.S. We never really got anywhere, but we did agree that we were an amazing country, to give these illegal entrants the benefit of such protection.
I thought about that recently while reading about Osama Awadalla, a 21-year-old Jordanian-born college student. Awadalla spent nearly three months in jail, treated as a high-security inmate, following the September 11 attacks. The FBI tracked down Awadalla in San Diego a little more than a week after the attacks, after finding his first name and former phone number on a scrap of paper in a car abandoned by one of the five men who commandeered American Airlines flight #77 and flew it into the Pentagon. It took three months of detention for a judge to determine that the U.S. government had absolutely no basis to imprison Awadalla based upon the evidence at hand and that he did not pose a risk. I wonder, time and again: how much is too much, and how much is enough?
In our grocery shelves stocked to the hilt, where it is unusual to see more than one box of Cheerios missing before it is dutifully replenished by a clerk, we are used to certain levels of efficiency, and that efficiency is what we want in our security mechanisms, especially after what we went through last year. At the same time, we like the fact that we give the benefit of the doubt to the innocent; better to let a guilty person walk than to see the innocent imprisoned. Such was the premise and foundation our forefathers worked from in defining our nation.
The days come and go, and as I read the news and watch CNN, it becomes more and more difficult for me to not cringe when I see and hear Mr. Bush and Mr. Ashcroft. I ask myself:
"I share the same conservative, Republican ideology with these guys, why am I having such a difficult time with the way they are proceeding?"
I ask myself if I've become some sort of intellectual snob? Some kind of elitist? Would I be behaving differently if the person in the White House was someone whose moral integrity was sacrosanct in my eyes, even if their politics were different than mine - someone like Jimmy Carter, for example, a hopelessly ineffective President, but a giant among men if there has ever been one.
I just don't know. I can only tell you that I believe that this country is bigger than any man or group of men leading it, and that we, as a nation, are strong enough to survive our leader's follies. Our Constitution has been bullet-proof for several centuries, and the separation of powers remain firmly in place.
About The Author
Jose Latour is the founding partner of Latour & Lleras, P.A., a Gainesville, Florida based business immigration practice working primarily with the IT industry and foreign investors. The above represents Mr. Latour's Editorial opinion. JELPA is an A/V rated firm whose web site, www.usvisanews.com, is one of the Internet’s most visited immigration sites. The firm was named “ONE OF AMERICA’S TOP TEN INTERNET/VIRTUAL COMPANIES” in the 1999 Inc. Magazine and Cisco Systems “Growing with Technology Awards.” Mr. Latour served as a U.S. Diplomatic and Consular Officer in Mexico and Africa before entering private practice and today divides his time between his law practice, writing, flying, and his music.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.