MIAMI — Growing up undocumented, I faced a lot of obstacles.
I remember my friends in high school getting drivers licenses, getting jobs, and applying to colleges while I wondered how I would be able to get past these limitations that constantly held me back. What I would always fantasize about however, was traveling abroad.
Most of my family still lives in Argentina. I longed to visit my native country and reconnect with relatives, especially both of my grandmothers who I was close to while I was a kid but that I got to see sparingly after moving to the United States. I also just wanted to see the world and all it had to offer. While friends of mine took trips abroad and spoke about their experiences, I have to admit that I felt jealous and frustrated that I was denied the same opportunity.
A few years back, I was able to adjust my status and I finally got to travel abroad. It was very meaningful and emotional for me to finally return to Argentina and see my family but also to visit other countries in Latin America. I remember the feeling of relief when I got my U.S. passport and feeling so puzzled that this little booklet had been so elusive for most of my life and now that I had one I was finally allowed the freedom to see the other cultures and places.
It’s strange to see now how the pandemic changed all of this. My U.S. passport is now almost useless. The places that Americans can travel to are very limited, most of them are small Caribbean and Eastern European countries. A majority of nations in the world are too afraid of allowing American citizens into their borders for fear of propagating new outbreaks of COVID-19.
Who can blame them?
The United States recently surpassed 174,000 deaths and 5.5 million infections. We have a president who continues to nonsensically argue that the only reason we have more COVID-19 cases is because we are doing too much testing. My relatives from Argentina ask me why are people in the United States so up in arms about wearing a mask in the middle of a pandemic. They genuinely do not understand. We have become the laughingstock of the world.
We have constantly been sold the myth of American Exceptionalism. We constantly hear about how this country has risen to meet challenges, for example the feat of putting a person on the moon! But when facing the challenge of tackling this pandemic, we crumbled. Trump lied, politicized the issue and agitated his most partisan supporters, and refused to take responsibility, either by ceding decision making to state governors or straight up feuding with them.
This is the price we are paying—we are on day 165 of this crisis and there are no signs that things are getting better. Congress cannot come up with a coronavirus relief package, testing is decreasing across the country, there’s still no vaccine in sight, and Trump continues to act like a fool.
The result is that the United States has become a global pariah and its citizens are shunned. We are mostly trapped within our own borders because we pose a global health threat to the rest of the world. For a long time I wanted a U.S. passport because it meant freedom of movement. Trump messed this up so bad that he rendered that passport meaningless.
Thomas Kennedy is a communications fellow for Community Change Action. He was a member of the Bernie Sanders 2020 campaign and tweets from @Tomaskenn.