Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Seán O’Sullivan – Enemy of the State?

Right. It’s official. Nothing I do is ever simple. I cannot go for food, make a simple transaction in a shop, or get on an airplane without at least minor incident. My recent flight out from Pittsburgh to Shannon is great evidence of this, but first, more pressing issues.

The latest debacle? Being refused re-entry to the United States after my Spring Break at home in Ireland. I was hassled a little at the check in desk, but I informed them of the instruction I had been given by RMU’s International Office, and once they saw my Student ID, they let me check in. Customs weren’t quite as welcoming.

I’ve been through the process before, so when my handling officer stopped talking to me and furrowed his brow, I got a little worried. He asked me to follow him, which I did. He brought me to a small waiting area with an incredibly bothered looking 50-something year old, who looked up and asked “You too?” disdainfully. I shrugged, unsure of what we had in common, so I said “Yeah… Me too”. He springs on me “Are you politically active?”. Something about his demeanour told me he wasn’t sexually active. Ever. He is disappointed by my reply, and then talks about how he is on the ‘Suspected Persons’ list of the USA, because of his activism.

No sooner do I have time to think “Suspected Persons list? I might be in a spot of bother here”, than an Arab gentleman is escorted into the room, and sits on the far side of me. I am now sandwiched between two enemies of the state, and wondering why I qualify for an audience with them. Just after Mr. Activist gets escorted into the office, a Continental Airlines rep pokes her head in, and asks if we’re flying with her airline – I am, and I ask her what’s going on.
“Don’t worry” she says, “It’s probably that your name is the same as someone else”.
That really wasn’t very helpful, and now I’m more worried than I was before.

Eventually I’m called into the office myself, and told that my paperwork is not in order, so I can’t leave the country. I tell them I’m aware of the fact that my Visa was out of date, but the University reissued me with the form that shows I am their student, and advised me that this form was all I would need for re-entry.
“Whoever told you that was mistaken, sir”
“This woman’s job is to know emigration laws”
“This woman is incompetent, sir”

I took it very well. The Customs guy told me he had to make a quick call, so I asked if I could too and excused myself.

“Hi Dad? Remember how funny we said it’d be if they didn’t let me back into the country? Yeah… They’re not letting me back into the country – any chance of a lift home?”

Customs guy walked me through the airport to where I had to pick up my bag, and I have to say he was an agreeable sort. He told me that sorting this ‘paperwork issue’ would take a matter of hours, once the American Embassy opened on Monday, and I should be able to fly out on Tuesday. I postulated afterwards that he may have just said that to cushion the blow, and predicted that the Embassy would tell me I’d have to make an appointment, would squeeze me in on Thursday, would post the Visa on Friday, and I’d have it by Monday to travel Tuesday.

When it comes to such predictions, I generally hit the nail on the head. This one, unfortunately, was right on the money.

6.55am Monday morning, I was on the train to Dublin – armed with €42 phone credit, a pen, and an MP3 player to pass the time until the embassy opened so I could call them. The first representative listened to my story, then told me that I’d have to make an appointment – Thursday at the earliest. I implored her that I needed it today, to no avail – she told me I needed to send a fax requesting an emergency meeting. I told her that I didn’t carry a fax machine on me, so she advised “Maybe you can call the embassy – you’ll need to talk to the NIV-Chief.” So I called the Embassy, and I told the operator my story, and she transferred me to the same frigging number I’d just been onto! I hung up, and rang her back, said the same spiel again, and she, in the bitchiest fashion possible, said “Sir, I already transferred you to who you have to talk to.” In an equally bitchy fashion, I told her that I needed this today – she had heard my story, and I needed an emergency appointment. Here comes the fuel that feeds the fire;

“This isn’t an emergency as far as we’re concerned, Sir. [she really chewed on that ‘Sir’, as if her false-courteousness genuinely pained her] You cannot come any earlier than your appointment – I can transfer you to someone to make an appointment.”

A bit of exposition here; if somebody tells me I can’t do something that I need to do, I’m going to do it regardless. I don’t take kindly to being told what I can and can’t do, especially when the stakes are high (missing 6 days of class and a girlfriend visiting me in Pittsburgh on Monday are high stakes, alright?).

I got transferred, and told the earliest appointment was Thursday morning. I said I’d take it, gave her all the details she asked for, and then….. The phone cut out. The automated Vodafone lady’s voice has never been more taunting; “You do not have enough credit to continue this call. Please top up and try again later.”

Effin’ hell! €42 gone on phone credit between 8.30 and 9am? Sickened. I sat on the train for the next 20 minutes, pondering my next move – go home, sort out my paperwork and show up for my appointment? Or stay in Dublin, sort out my paperwork, and show up at the embassy uninvited?

I chose the latter.


cait said...

seán, i cannot tell you how happy i was to click on the "Sully's Blog" link in my favorites tab and be greeted with a new blog entry. i feel slightly lame to say i've been feverishly checking it a few times a day in hopes of reading about this whole debacle...i must say i wasn't dissapointed. so where are you now?? i picture you sleeping on the steps of the embassy, eagerly awaiting your customer number to be called. dont give up! you absolutely must make it back in time for st. patty's day!!

Anonymous said...

How dare you call our National Saint 'st. patty'