by Dr. Richard Morin, FOX Medical Correspondent
I just returned from Australia. I was in the top third of a two-day flight from Istanbul. I missed my connecting flight to Newark but checked-in for the return flight to Istanbul.
Despite having some kind of identification at both boarding gates, the 905 return flight was held for four hours because of an overnight layover in JFK due to bad weather. The flight crew was late picking us up and offered to re-book for later in the day but that was canceled because of other passengers. When we finally reached New York, the ticket agent said that we’d still have to check-in in the pre-boarding area because of the night in Newark.
It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as an American citizen, my passport was stolen from me on a trip when I was heading to Central America. I had no ID at the airport to show for security and all of the other process was so stressful. I lost most of the things I owned and couldn’t get my passport to finish the journey because the US Embassy in Costa Rica wouldn’t issue one. Without my passport I couldn’t leave the country.
My kids were distraught, they didn’t understand why I couldn’t leave the country. I told them I was a prisoner. Since I had to wait for my US passport they had no idea why I couldn’t leave. When I finally got a US passport, it took days to get to my destination.
The most stressful part of this trip for me was having to go through these bureaucratic procedures to try to get a passport after having your passport stolen in Honduras. This is not an issue limited to the US. We have so many problems with the bureaucracy that we have a huge backlog at the US Embassy in both Costa Rica and in Honduras. Those backlogs have built up over many years and are now just as bad or worse in Haiti, Panama, Costa Rica, and other locations throughout the world. We do not see things moving as quickly and efficiently as they are in places like Canada and England.
I understand the current US administration’s frustration with how long it takes to get our passports. This is an incredibly necessary and vital service, it should be easy. The steps are simple and we shouldn’t have to use extended time to fill out forms, make phone calls, and wait for our passport cards. Yet we need to, because the border services are staffed with very unqualified people from poor countries who don’t understand the nuances of the services the US can provide.
I have noticed how foreign policy often deals with issues in the Middle East, Africa, and other locations around the world by projecting our own anxieties about our own security. In this situation, our own fears play a major role. There are several countries where foreigners sometimes arrive and they have very little help from government agencies. Not all foreign countries can or will invest in their own citizens to ensure their country’s well-being. In such places the US needs to realize that a small investment of time and money can have a large return for all involved.
For example, in Belgium, I was granted the right to a US passport after I had my stolen passport reissued. People who live in Belgium have basic rights they are unable to exercise. Foreign citizens cannot stand in long lines, apply for services, or make life decisions in this country because the government is not fully invested in them. I know this is not possible in the US but it is possible to see that the “Free Market” is something that many countries around the world offer to their citizens. I’ve been to England many times where the “National Health System” is more than adequate. Many of us are so successful without the benefit of a government bureaucracy.
It makes sense to treat people where they are, rather than waiting to address problems after we are in their countries. An American employee in those countries would know the rules well, would have plenty of time to cover all of their needs and be able to see far