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Karl

Sixteen years ago, my wife and I were flying home to New York from Guatemala with our newly adopted infant daughter. Many of the other passengers onboard were Guatemalans destined for Miami and a new life in the United States. They were leaving a country where a long succession of repressive regimes and a thirty-six year civil war had killed more than two-hundred thousand citizens, and where gang and drug related deaths and kidnappings were the new norm. We were a plane full of new immigrants to America.

As the plane passed over Havana Bay, less than one hour from Miami, the pilot’s voice came over the intercom telling us that, due to air traffic problems in Miami, we were being returned to Guatemala. For many of our fellow passengers, the fear was palpable. Were they going to be arrested in Guatemala? Or worse? For my wife and me, the rerouting made no sense as we knew we could have been flown to any number of alternate U.S. destinations. There were no further explanations offered from the crew.

The next two hours passed in stunned silence. When we disembarked through customs in Guatemala City, the airport televisions were tuned to CNN International where we watched the World Trade Towers burn and collapse.

On the day that a plane full of new immigrants had their dreams deferred, immigration took on new meaning in the U.S.; politically it played to fear, misunderstanding, and the need to rationalize the completely irrational. On a personal level, our daughter, rather than growing up in a forward-thinking culture, has had to cope with increasing xenophobia and white tribalism. Despite these circumstances, she and her younger sister (also adopted from Guatemala, in 2004) have grown, achieved and prospered as millions of immigrants before them have done. They are supported by the knowledge that we all came from somewhere else; none of us are immigrants if we are all immigrants.