I have been known to be critical of our government. Very critical. But when government works, and works well, it has the capacity to do good for citizens – both at home and abroad. And I am the first to give kudos.
During Memorial Day weekend I had the opportunity to witness good government in action. Last Sunday I received a text from my husband Rickerby. He had just crossed the border from Romania to Turkey with a group of his actors and a stage manager when they were informed by Turkish duty officers that John, one of the members of their entourage, was being detained. Later they learned that John was being held and not allowed to enter the country because he was traveling with a passport they deemed too damaged to accept. He was in abeyance, alone, and unsure of his next move. His sense of security – we often take for granted as we stand on American soil or traverse various borders as American citizens – had disappeared.
Before the trip (which includes performances in four European countries: Romania, Turkey, Poland, and Hungary) the group didn’t fully consider that Turkey, as Syria’s neighbor to the north, is the gateway to terrorist groups like ISIL. Recent news headlines are replete with stories of young American men, many of whom fit John’s profile, trying to evade detection by devising plans to travel to Syria via Istanbul, Turkey. As recent as last month, two young men from Texas were arrested by FBI agents for attempting to travel to Syria to engage in acts of terrorism. Both had purchased tickets to cities in Turkey. “The flow of foreign fighters to Syria represents an evolving threat to our country and allies,” U.S Attorney General Loretta Lynch commented after others were arrested for similar activities.
Because of potential threats, Turkish duty officers are increasingly critical of those who approach their borders. And for reasons we will never know, they used John’s worn-out passport as a reason to return him to Bucharest. The only people he knew in the city were writers and artists he had just met, but those new friends were willing to provide food and lodging for what he hoped would be a short stay, just long enough to wait for the U.S. Embassy to open and hopefully issue him a new passport that would satisfy the Turkish border agents.
Our first call was to John’s congressperson Rep. Norma Torres. It was a Sunday, but within 30 minutes her district director Veronica Zendejas contacted us for more information. Within three hours Veronica had included congressional case manager Rafael Trujillo on our email chain. They had identified the Embassy Emergency Services contact information used for U.S. citizens while abroad in cases of death, arrest, or serious medical emergency, and forwarded that information to John. I had forwarded John’s contact information, a copy of his passport, and his mother’s contact information. By the end of the day they had completed a letter to the U.S. Embassy in Bucharest, scheduled an appointment there for John, and contacted the U.S. Embassy in Istanbul. The next day was Memorial Day and all U.S. Consulates were closed, so Veronica called John just to check on him and let him know what to expect the following day. And then she called to brief me, let me know that she had briefed Congresswoman Torres, and asked if I briefed Assembly member Cheryl Brown, known to me simply as “mom.”
Veronica spent her entire holiday weekend making sure that by Tuesday morning John could pick-up a new passport and board an airplane back to Turkey to join the rest of the troupe. Tuesday he took an Uber to the Consulate in Bucharest where he was greeted by an enthusiastic staff who issued an emergency passport. He flew to the same airport where just two days earlier he was forced to sleep on a cot in a secure room during his detention… they did give him McDonalds though. This time, he was greeted by a duty officer that had been in contact with Veronica back here in California. He had no problem clearing Turkish customs. By Wednesday he had rejoined the group in time to rehearse for their next performance at the St. Antuan Chapel in Istanbul.
I recently read a quote, “good government only happens when the people working in it do their jobs, and do them well.” Congresswoman Torres, Veronica, Rafael, and the U.S. Consulate staff not only did their jobs, they did them well for one stranded citizen alone in a foreign land. So kudos to them.