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Nightmare trip that says a lot about Trump’s America

PUBLISHED: 07:19 19 July 2017

Flying into trouble: Aidan Semmen's friend had a nightmare experience of travelling to the US.

Flying into trouble: Aidan Semmen's friend had a nightmare experience of travelling to the US.

Archant

Opinion: A friend’s travel ordeal shines a light on Trump’s America, says Aidan Semmens.

It was not the longest or most difficult journey to America ever made. Not up there with Christopher Columbus’s original voyage of 1492. Nor the trip my grandmother made as a nine-year-old travelling alone on the lower deck from Russia to New York.

It involved nothing like the horrors endured by migrants desperate enough to risk crossing the Mediterranean in overcrowded, ramshackle boats, perhaps drowning in the attempt.

Or the dangers faced by those fleeing the wars in Yemen or Syria or the lawlessness that has ensued from Western “involvement” in Libya.

Or the hardships of those who perish trying to cross the desert that makes Donald Trump’s promised wall between the US and Mexico a complete irrelevance for so much of that border.

The trip was not undertaken by a Muslim from any of those Arab states Trump has closed the door on. It was a journey home to Wisconsin by a British man who has lived there legally for years, running a small business with his American wife.

A white, middle-aged, middle-class man with no beard, tattoos or extreme political or religious views. A member, in short, (like me) of a privileged minority. Nevertheless, I think his Odyssey last week is worth recounting for what it says about the world we live in.

Airport-to-airport, it should have taken just under 14 hours. It took 66 – largely for reasons that speak volumes about Trump’s America.

The traveller had been summoned back to England at short notice when his 89-year-old mother was taken into hospital after a heart attack. Happily, against all apparent odds, she returned home and seems to have made a full recovery.

Meanwhile, however, back in Wisconsin Steve’s father-in-law died suddenly and he made a rapid flight booking in hope of being home for the funeral. Vain hope, as it turned out.

It was as he was changing planes in Dublin that the troubles began.

US Homeland Security now begins a long way from the homeland – and there was a mix-up over the dates on his travel documents. By the time that was sorted, his booked flight had flown.

Waiting to get on another plane the next morning, he was denied a boarding pass and told he would have to go to the US Embassy to have his Green Card cleared. At the embassy, he was told to send an email.

Which he did from an internet cafe around the corner, in a country he’d landed in with no local currency and an inoperative phone. Meanwhile, another flight to Chicago had left – and his father-in-law’s faraway funeral was just hours away.

At this point technical troubles enter the story. Given the all-clear by the immigration authorities, our hero boarded a flight for Chicago, only to sit on the Dublin tarmac for a couple of hours – and then back in the departure lounge for several more – while ground crew fixed an electrical fault on the plane.

When eventually he landed in Chicago it was past midnight – the hour at which his clearance granted in Dublin expired.

There are a dozen flights a day from Chicago to Milwaukee. But once he was through another two hours with immigration officials, Steve decided that rather than wait for the day’s air service to begin he’d make the last 90 miles of his trek by taxi. And ran into a Mid-West thunderstorm of the kind that brings flooding and road damage...

All first world problems, perhaps. But as his wife remarked: “It’s about immigration in this land that Trump is making so great again. You can see what a fine job he’s doing in making America first.”

Meanwhile Steve’s sister, one of my oldest and dearest friends, has her own related worries. Having lived for 30 years in France with a British passport, she’s now wondering anxiously where Brexit will leave her, her French husband and her French job.

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