For the past several weeks, I have had the immense privilege of being able to travel to various cities and countries. According to the U.S. Department of State, as of 2018, individuals with a valid United States passport are able to travel to 177 countries without a visa. This number is increased to 186 countries if we include destinations that provide visas upon arrival. Considering that there are only 38 countries that are eligible to visit the U.S. visa-free under the Visa Waiver Program, we cannot deny the privilege of having a U.S. passport in our hands. Furthermore, with the current political climate back home surrounding immigration, I recognize the sheer luck I’ve had in holding U.S. citizenship and being able to travel freely without any qualms. And I say luck because I’m no different from the individuals who I have had the greatest fortune of meeting this summer in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I am a child of Vietnam War refugees who received asylum in the United States more than 30 years ago. They too survived a war and were forced to become refugees in their own country. Like most of the younger generations of Bosnians, they made the difficult decision to leave behind their beloved home with all its familiarities, memories, and heartaches in exchange for a better life for themselves and their children. My identity as an American was granted to me on the sole premise that I was born within U.S. borders. I didn’t do anything special to earn this identity; I don’t hold a degree in engineering or medicine, I haven’t won a Nobel Peace prize, I don’t have the IQ level of a genius. But yet, I hold American citizenship. I have had access to top American universities. I have visited world famous destinations.
It has been more than 20 years after the war in Bosnia and Herzegovina, but despite the peace that the Dayton Agreement has brought to this region, there continues to be so many obstacles that prevent true healing. There is the concept of the “two schools under one roof” where Bosniak and Croat children attend school in the same buildings but are physically segregated and taught different curriculum. From a first-hand experience, I have met so many people either my age or a few years older who are having trouble finding employment due to nepotism and the lack of available jobs. Additionally, many Bosnians have expressed how difficult it has been for them to apply for visas to enter the United States and visit their families. I find the American immigration system to be completely biased, if not egregious. I have had multiple Bosnian friends tell me that they have made numerous attempts at applying for visas, but there are just too many hoops to jump through and obstacles to cross. I remember that when my mother was sponsoring my uncle and his family’s immigration to the United States, the entire process took 11 years. I understand the need to screen individuals who are entering a country’s borders, but I am outraged by the disparities in immigration and visa protocols based on a person’s country of residence. Why does the narrative of the “illegal immigrant” only apply to brown bodies primarily from Central America? Why does a Bosnian have more obstacles than a German or Dutch person in terms of visa requirements?
It’s time for Americans to take a hard look at the privilege we hold for simply being born within the border of the United States. We have benefited from fortunate circumstances and different periods of time that have allowed for more free-flowing migration. It’s crucial to reflect on the fact that many individuals would not need to enter the United States if there weren’t conditions (that were out of their control) that led to forced displacement and separation of family members.