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Lessons from a Canine Immigrant

By Sara Joseph Communications Associate, Witness for Peace

During the year-and-a-half that I worked in Nicaragua with Witness for Peace, I lived less than two blocks from the U.S. Embassy. The colossal building is sandwiched between agencies that advertise help secure a “visa for a dream.” And long before the day heats up, the line for visa interviews extends well onto the sidewalk in front of the Embassy.

Of course, even after submitting all your paperwork and paying for an embassy interview, there’s

no guarantee that you’ll be granted even a visitor’s visa to the United States. A few years ago, a friend of mine was denied a visa to visit his cousins even though his mother, stepfather, and half-siblings were all granted travel documents.

Fortunately, I was able to help one friend secure a visa to the United States: my dog Dino. I adopted Dino two months after arriving in Nicaragua and was soon unable to imagine life without him. But would I be able to take him with me when I returned to the United States?

When I inquired at the U.S. embassy I was informed that a new embargo against shipping dogs had recently been established. My heart dropped.

“There are two ways to skirt around the embargo,” I was told. “The first option is to ship another animal to the U.S. first, say, a duck or a chicken.”

Huh. It wasn’t looking good. “And the other option?” I asked, almost scared to hear the answer. I couldn’t imagine having to leave Dino behind – he’s part of my family!

“You can join Continental’s frequent flyer program,” he told me. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Clearly, this was nothing compared to the hoops Nicaraguan people are forced to jump through to get a visa to the U.S. And although I was nervous about whether Dino would be scared or

uncomfortable traveling from Managua to Boston in the airplane’s cargo, the risks can’t compare to what many Nicaraguan immigrants undertake when forced to reach the United States by land – and undocumented.

Today, as I write with Dino happily munching on a mango pit at my feet (he is a Nicaraguan pooch, after all), I can’t help but think about the pain our immigration laws cause to families throughout the Americas – and the discomfort of knowing that as a U.S. citizen, I was able to bring even the most rebellious of mutts home with me without much difficulty. Now, it is my appreciation for being able to maintain my own odd family that inspires me to keep working against the arbitrary, punitive, and often hypocritical legislation that keeps so many family members separated.


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