The first time I encountered Immigration here in the United States was at the Los Angeles airport. I remember that the Passport Control/Immigration was housed in a large warehouse type room in the basement. It was hot. There were people everywhere. The plane we had come in from Hong Kong on was fully loaded, and everyone was tired, cranky, and unaware of our American standards for personal space. I remember that there was a line at Immigration and we had to wait a very long time just to get the chance to hand over the papers for our new son. I remember that our little 15 month old son quickly tired of his newly purchased stroller and was soon running about the expansive room, with his new, tired and hot mommy chasing after him. I also remember a long wait once it was our turn. A long unpleasant wait.
Three years later I found myself back in that same Immigration line. And not looking forward to it. This time I had a 24 month old with me, who was more mobile and independent than my first son. And I was alone. And I had no stroller. I took my time getting off the plane and walking downstairs.
I entered the expansive room and was surprised at what I saw. Or more, what I didn't see. My fellow passengers from Japan were waiting quietly in the many lines to enter the country- each passport booth was actually open! There was no pushing, no misuse of personal space. The room was calm, quiet and most importantly, not hot.
There were airport authorities standing every few feet, assisting passengers to find the right line. One of these helpers pointed me towards the American citizen line. "I need immigration", I told him. He pointed me towards a woman holding a walkie talkie and called over to her "She needs immigration." She came over to me asked if it were for me or the baby or both. I explained it was for the baby. I was expecting her to just point me towards the right line- after all, if it hadn't changed since I was there last I was pretty sure I already knew where I needed to go. But she didn't point me anywhere. Instead, she picked up her walkie talkie and very loudly said "I am sending over a baby immigrant. I repeat, I am sending over a baby immigrant." OK, that was weird. The entire room seemed to stop the quiet buzzing all at once and I felt every eye on me. I started to walk in the direction she was pointing. Before I could thank her she pushed the talk button on her walkie talkie again and said: " Did you hear me? There is a baby immigrant heading your way!" What? Why the need to announce this all over the room? What did they think this little baby immigrant was going to do? How prepared did they need to be?
There was no answer for a few seconds and then a voice came over the walkie talkie. "Is the baby momma coming too?" Oh My God. The entire room erupted into laughter. And me and my little baby immigrant felt very welcomed into the United States.