The first border is invisible and internal. It’s an uncomfortable feeling, a mix of humiliation, fear and nervousness. Your hands get sweaty as you fill in the blanks.
Do you seek to engage in espionage, sabotage, export control violations, or any other illegal activity while in the United States?
To cross the first border you have to find a new set of mind, an internal balance between compliance with the rules and the rebel inside you. It’s not that hard; after all, entire generations before you had to learn that same thing: how to write endless petitions and fill in never-ending paperwork, how to stand in infinite lines and smile while being asked absurd questions about their private life.
Are you coming to the United States to engage in prostitution or unlawful commercialized vice or have you engaged in prostitution or procuring prostitutes within the past 10 years?
The second border, it is much more physical. Armed officers in front of a building display no smiles. The person in charge, a tired blond woman, lets only few people inside making the rest of the bored crowd move a little bit. A long, curving line in front of the American Embassy changes its static position. It’s cold and windy; the snow melts slowly on a muddy street in Warsaw.
The third border is a surprise. You are the last member of the fortunate group who finally can get inside. A small but well armed group of security officers gazes angrily as you let too much cold air into the small room. The slow process of controlling the content of everyone’s pockets, purses, backpacks is followed by the not much faster process of checking everyone’s documents. Is your picture correct? Is this your picture? Is your ear visible enough? What is the relation between the size of your nose and your eyes, but wait, are your eyes even symmetrical enough to let you into this kingdom of promises?
Some of us won’t ever make it, some of us won’t make it today, and some of us won’t make it now. You won’t. Your picture is wrong. Back to square one, you find yourself on that muddy street again, in front of the building, in front of the border.
Four photos and two hours later you make it. You are in, ready for the last border. You pass the very first check-point and with a small enthusiastic group you proceed further. Few controls later, your group is smaller and less animated. You enter a huge room filled with people and their hopes. Walls are covered with colorful posters showing Manhattan and Photoshopped sunsets. Ten immigration officers wait for you behind small windows. After long a wait for your turn you approach one of them, a bold, pale man without any trace of that famous American smile. You might feel anxious and probably tired of the whole procedure which now lasts more than four hours. What’s the next border?
The first questions are standard and predictable; the officer lets you relax and feel no borders between you two. You chat about the weather, it’s unusually windy for March, and share your enthusiasm for visiting Yellowstone or maybe even the Grand Canyon and it just turns out that he went there with his nieces last summer and you should definitely start from the other entrance, and remember, staying hydrated is very important, he says with a smile that should be put on the Arizona Welcome Center. You smile too because you can already envision yourself drinking water at the scenic view point on your way to the Grand Canyon.
But there are borders between you and you’re about to discover them right now. The very moment you feel good about that conversation you make a mistake. He picks it up immediately and repeats after you, maybe even smiles again, but there is nothing funny about you, standing, a passport in your sweaty hand, in front of him, sitting comfortably, hidden behind a glass wall. There is no connection. Just border. In his flawless Polish, he questions your dreams, your ideas, your plans.
To się nie uda! It doesn’t work! he almost screams and in your head you already say goodbye to the very last border you wanted to cross. Goodbye, ginger skies above Arizona.
But then all humiliation, all nervousness, all anxiety is gone. His display of power and anger disappears; maybe he really wants you to see what his nieces saw last summer in Grand Canyon or maybe he’s exhausted just like you. It’s been a long time for both of you, and the energy level drops drastically on both sides of the glass widow. You touch your freshly stamped visa and start to believe in the world without borders at all.