I’ve had a lot of visas in my life. Two years ago I got a new passport before my old one expired because I was running out of space — and at my current rate of use I will need another one five years ahead of schedule. I spent $700 on visas in December 2016 alone.

This was supposed to be a jovial piece about all the hoops I have jumped through in my pursuit of expensive stickers. But I write this the day after legal immigrants were detained at the U.S. border because they happened to be in the air when President Trump signed an executive order banning nationals of seven countries from entering the U.S.

My stories of border guards with guns manning an out-of –the-way station in Central Asia singing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” when they realized our car was full of westerners, of dropping dollars into diplomats’ desk drawers in a European capital city and sitting for four hours in summer in a non-air-conditioned room/holding pen with whole wall made of glass but no drinking water (looking at you, USA) aren’t so funny anymore.

On the one hand I am outraged. On the other, I am heartened by the near-instant mobilization and spontaneous protests at airports all over the country yesterday, and by ACLU’s victory in securing their release.

Let’s remember, however, that it is not a victory when visa and green card holders don’t get detained at the airport. This is supposed to be normalcy.

Two weeks ago — two days ago — the establishment, everyone, Republicans, Paul Ryan wanted legal immigrants. The problem is the illegals, they said. When people are here illegally it’s an affront to those who worked to come and stay here legally, they said.

What happened last night changed all the rules on this, and so-called liberal “radicals” protested, worked pro-bono, spend time and effort defending the status quo.

Oh how the tables have turned.

Legal travel has always been fraught with vulnerabilities, putting individuals at the mercy of state apparatus and whims of officials.

Once upon a time I got out of my bus at a land border crossing in winter without my coat on, and the official had never seen my visa type before. While he argued with me in a foreign language, I stood and shivered. My bus drove over the line into the new country, taking my belongings — and my coat — with it. Thank God he eventually let me through.

At a different land border the guard looked at my stickers and realized I probably spoke one of his languages. He asked me if I was married and wanted me to drink tea with his son who was my age, also unmarried, and spoke that language well. Cue lots of discussion to get my passport back so we could drive on to the airport across the border. We almost missed our flight.

Another time I was almost denied boarding because my valid sticker was in a cancelled passport and the official couldn’t believe that this was legal. This situation called for tears at 6 am, a panicked phone call to the sticker-country’s Embassy emergency line, several calls to airport supervisors, and only then did I MAKE IT.

I thought I was so clever spending Christmas Day on the U.S. Department of State website filling in my DS-160, getting home for long enough to kiss my grandmother before rushing off to the capital city and reporting to the U.S. embassy before dawn to stand in line and smile politely so I could get another special sticker worth five more years before January 20th.

What’s so unnerving about this is that I will probably be fine.

If this ban escalates, it will probably not affect me.

But after events of this weekend who really knows anymore.

The terrifying lesson for all of us, not just for immigrants and Muslims, is that safety, stability and freedom can be taken away on a whim even from people who had followed all the rules.

Those who support Trump made an instantaneous about-turn on the legal/illegal dichotomy that has underlay their rhetoric on immigration for years, and inflicted willful trauma on people who have legally made their lives here.

The lesson: Their calls to respect the law are a farce and a lie. What is unthinkable on Friday can now happen on Saturday. It can happen again and again in ways we don’t expect or plan for, and anything we thought could keep us safe can be taken away.

Written by a nonimmigrant resident alien to the U.S. & member of the Anti-Nihilist Institute team.

Anti-Nihilist Institute

Part think tank and part media platform, we publish articles, moderate panels and host podcasts that examine the urgent questions of our time.

Anti-Nihilist Institute

Written by

Advocating for an empathetic and intellectually cooperative society by exposing corruption, countering xenophobia and promoting personal wellbeing

Anti-Nihilist Institute

Part think tank and part media platform, we publish articles, moderate panels and host podcasts that examine the urgent questions of our time.

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