By Mike Rosso
The big news in Salida this past month was not the local restaurateur who got into a wrestling match with a county sheriff’s deputy. Instead it was the eight German students whose visas were denied by ICE at the Denver International Airport and were sent back to their home country, but only after getting a taste of the American prison system.
This bizarre event made statewide news here, but was a huge story in Europe where the students were inundated with calls from the media, asking to share their experiences about the unfortunate circumstances of their deportation. (Read more about this incident on pages 19 and 21). Meanwhile, many Salida residents, horrified by the treatment of these students, have set up an online GoFundMe site where donations can be made to reimburse their airline passage. Cards and letters of support and apologies are also being sent in the hopes of demonstrating regrets that these students were denied this opportunity to visit and experience American culture, Colorado-style.
The incident got me to thinking about my first visit to Europe, back in 1980 while in my early 20s. I had just graduated from college and decided to reward myself with a trip to the British Isles. I got my first passport, an internal frame backpack, a Youth Hostel card and some sturdy shoes.
I flew from Newark to Heathrow Airport in London in early April with cash, travellers checks and a map, intending to spend at least the next two months hitchhiking and taking trains around England, Ireland and Scotland.
I was dumbfounded. Was it my beard? The backpack? The last thing I expected was to be denied entry into England. I explained to the official I had no intentions of looking for a job as I was actually there for holiday, with little desire to work. Several tense moments passed as I pictured myself having to return to the U.S. without having set foot outside of the airport.
Finally, with a scowl, he stamped my passport and went on to harass the next person in line.
I found my way onto the London Tube, a bit shaken, but ready to continue my adventures. Despite a few more scares in those first 24 hours in London, I ended up spending those two months travelling from castle to pub, village to city, with many friendly locals willing to pick up this “Yank” and even spot me a pint at the end of the ride.
As it turned out, that immigration man was the only truly unpleasant person I encountered during my entire stay overseas and, had he sent me back, would have tainted my view of Britain ever afterwards. These German students have surely learned a sad lesson about the United States.