The idea of a native country, that is to say a certain bit of ground traced out on a map and separated from other bits by a red or blue line: no not for me, my native country is the country I love, meaning the one that makes me dream, that makes me feel well.
The Art of Travel, Alain De Botton
I am living in the Czech Republic, and I have 90 days to be here legally. Not only in the CR, but in all of the Schengen countries which covers most of Europe. When I was here in the late 90’s, the last hay days of the American dollar, if your tourist visa was about to run out, you could go to a neighboring country hang out for a while and then return to your desired country with a fresh new entry stamp. Those days are over. You have to go farther away and spend more money for that to work. If you become illegal in all of Schengen you will have an enormous fine and not be allowed to return to Europe for up to ten years. It is a race for the visas if a person wants to stay. I want to stay, and I know other Americans who are gambling with time for their visas and for the opportunity to stay in a place that is other then their birth place. It’s all politics and government.
When the ability to live where you have greater resources, or to have a better life for your children or to marry whom you love or just to live a new life in a new place is impeded by politics it doesn’t take an individual long to figure out how little they matter to politics, governments, and big corporate business, and you can feel very small and vulnerable. That’s how control works. Of course, everywhere in the world should be a good place to live, but this world is not equal.
Marek’s story was similar to mine except he was a Czech living in America. He had gone to America on a visa very much like I am doing now in the Czech Republic. He was lured to stay for romance which in my opinion can cause a human to take more risks. Most of the risks people take to live in a country other than their own comes from love. The love to be with someone, the love to take care of a family, the desire to have a better life for that family. A better life. Love for yourself. I don’t know why Marek had gone to the U.S. originally, but while he was there he met someone, and decided to stay. He became engaged to be married. Getting married and getting citizenship in a country other than your own is not an easy thing. You are often treated more like a criminal than a potential new citizen. It is a slow and long process. As Marek and his fiancé waited for the legal procedures his visa expired. He admittedly said he knew it went over, but he was going to be married, and was waiting for his green card, and he didn’t realize the consequences were more than a fine or the threat of deportation.
When it was discovered that Marek’s visa had expired he was arrested, and sent to a prison for 70 days. A prison with bars, and a number, and an orange jump suit. Not, because he had stolen, vandalized, raped or murdered, but because he overstayed his visa as he waited for his green card. He was 22 had never committed any actual crime, and he was sent to a state penitentiary. It wasn’t just the arrest or even some jail time that surprised me, what surprised me was the amount of jail time and that it was prison time. To me prisons should be used for real criminals, like rapists, child killers, murderers in general, companies that steal millions of dollars from people subsequently causing economic crashes and destroying lives- real crimes. I don’t understand why people who are illegal, whether they snuck across a boarder or overstayed a tourist or student visa, are being sent to prisons? Why not just deported? Does it cost more money to keep an illegal immigrant in our prisons then to deport them?
Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore, Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Were these words inscribed on the Statue of Liberty ever true? I think, as I travel through this life, I gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be free. That this freedom can not be taken for granted, and many of those who believe they are free are not. Are our world boarders really protecting us? Protecting us from what? From people stealing our homes, our children, our dreams? Those things are stolen from us everyday from our backyards, our schools, our homes. It isn’t people who arrive illegally who take a person’s home away, it’s a very late mortgage payment and a bank that takes away that American Dream. Not one illegal Mexican repossessed an American citizen’s house. What is this freedom? Freedom is not about purchasing power it is about being able to make honest daily choices about how you want to live your life, raise your family, and how you want to love, it should also include where you want to live. The world is filled with plenty of successful unhappy people who believe they are free.
Marek got married while in a prison in America. He told me that he and his wife placed their hands on the glass that separated them, and he promised her that they would have a beautiful wedding once he was free. Marek obviously was free, and he came out of his 70 day’s in prison a new person with a new perspective on life. Life is precious, short, and can easily be stolen from you. He made simple promises to himself to spend time in the mountains, to appreciate life, to make the most out of it. To live now.
As I gathered up my belongings and paid my bill Marek showed me a picture from his wedding. The bride in a beautiful strapless white gown, and Marek in a dark suit kissing on a bridge with the Krumlov castle in the background, and a gorgeous pale blue sky. A fairytale wedding, as he had promised. Not everyone behind the prison glass gets to keep that promise because they are still waiting behind the prison glass.
At the point of writing this post, I still have time on my tourist visa, and if it was up to me I would have cut through the red tape, but it isn’t up to me, and the clock ticks as the days pass. It doesn’t matter that I’ve paid the required amounts to begin the work visa process all that matters is that the visa is approved before my time runs out. That is not up to me but, as far as I know, they are not arresting Americans for being illegal.
“There should be no boarders. We migratory creatures. We should be free to wander and free to stay. These “others” the corporate gods who live in the banks and government buildings high above our heads, they care nothing about us.They want to keep us in pig pens and call them boarders. They want to control our food, our water, who we love, how we love and live, and then they tell us to have pride while they make our pens smaller and tighter till we claw at one another. That’s not freedom that’s a factory farm.” – Annabelle, Zizkov