The U.S. Department of State has Official Business with me.

1
Sep
2011

I was a little taken aback this afternoon when I received this rather large and imposing envelope in the mail:

What could it be, I wondered? Since I am the type of person who always feels guilty of something (whether or not I have been accused), I racked my brain in the elevator on the way back up to my apartment. There were other people in the car with me, not to mention the security cameras, so I jealously guarded my envelope like an expert CIA operative, keeping cool, no false moves, walking out of the elevator with total forthrightness as I walked back to my apartment. Once opened, I was relieved to find out that it was an actual resolution to a problem I had reported to the Department of Homeland Security about 9 months ago. You heard right, DHS and NINE months.

My misery with the DHS goes back to something that happened over 20 years ago (on March 15, 1991 according to their records — beware the ides of March indeed). I was living in Paris at the time and had lost my passport and needed to get another.  I dutifully went to the embassy, got my emergency passport and later on a trip home to the states had it extended (emergency passports are only valid a few months without further proof of identity), along with handing them the old passport which had by this time been found. And you know what they did with that original passport? They punched two holes in it, stamped it CANCELLED, and handed it back to me. Over the next several years I took many an oversea trip, with nary a problem or peep from any customs or immigration official anywhere on US soil. Then something called September 11, 2001 happened.

In the frenzy that followed, to “protect” our country from threats real and imagined, the Bush/Cheney axis (of evil) steamrolled over most of the civil liberties we used to take for granted in this country. In their zeal to protect (and let’s face it, control) the population, they enacted a bunch of laws aimed at consolidating their power into one amazing police state. Among their many bright ideas was the creation of an office of “Homeland Security”, tasked with setting up security lines at airports, among other things. And among the other various high profile potential terrorist threats swept up in their dragnet was me. Yes, me. For, since the creation of that department, I have had no end of trouble trying to get back into the country after each trip abroad. The story was always the same, and always met with the same result. I would be returning from a trip to Europe or Mexico or wherever, sometimes alone and sometimes with friends, and most of the time I would be stopped and questioned for about 30 minutes, always about this mysterious “missing” passport. The first time it happened, I thought that after I had explained it to them (and that it wasn’t missing at all, I had it in a drawer at home with holes punched in it) they would enter it into some super sophisticated database and records would be updated and I would not be troubled again. But it did happen again, and again. Always the exact same story, always about a 30 minute delay waiting in some side office to get some clearance to leave. I asked on several occasions what I could do about it, and I offered to turn in the “missing” passport if they would just tell me who to give it to. I asked who I could contact about it, and got conflicting information. Last year I had finally had enough and talked to someone at the passport agency who passed me to someone else who told me to contact DHS, who pointed me, finally, to a website to lodge my complaint and submit documentation.

And so, for months and months I have been checking the site with nary a status update other than “documents received”. I did notice upon returning from Europe three weeks ago that I was not stopped in the usual way. And lo and behold, today in the mail I get the notice of resolution. (Let’s just hope my little rant here doesn’t return me to their danger list.)