The United States under Donald Trump gets more dystopian every day and just when you think that one round of hyperbolic excess and outright lies is as bad as it can gets, along comes another to prove you dead wrong. The trends in that country are truly disturbing and have ramifications for the entire world.
At a point in my life I came to the conclusion that I no longer wished to enter the United States and my reasons at the time are given here. It seems to me that they were reasons enough but other factors would now have to be taken into consideration.
I have a friend in Southern California (I have birded there on three separate occasions) who is constantly faced with the presence (and sometimes hassles) of the border patrol.Witness an actual incident. She was birding and shooting pictures in the Tijuana Valley from her car and she made a safe u-turn in the middle of nowhere between the famed birding spot, Dairy Mart Ponds and the Bird and Butterfly Garden - not on the border mind you, but close, moving around freely as the constitution of her country allows her to do. She was surrounded by border patrol agents, little twenty-two year olds on three wheelers and told to pull over. They asked her what she was doing. She asked them if she broke the law. They told her she was acting suspiciously. She told them she lived nearby and had turned to photograph a magnificent female dark morph Red-tailed Hawk Buteo jamaicensis and a Coyote Canis latrans disputing the same dead rabbit on the road.
She was let go, of course, but she is convinced that it is only because she is white, blond, sixty-two years old and when they ran the check on her licence plate she had no criminal record or outstanding warrants. She says that when confronted she immediately speaks up with humour to try to diffuse the situation, but she cannot imagine that kind of interaction taking place with a young male with a dark skin, a hispanic or middle eastern name, an African American. I know birders here in Canada who would fit all of those descriptions.She admits to living in a police state there, so close to the border. She says that the encounters (plural) are tedious and frightening.
Even before this latest ban on travel for people from certain countries, I know a Canadian businessman who was born in Iraq, but has lived here since he was nineteen; he is now in his sixties. Several years ago he stopped going to the US because of the hassles he faced at the airports when his Canadian passport revealed a birthplace in Iraq. Twice he was denied entry and sent back to Canada. He once did a good business with US companies, but that is all a thing of the past. Part of his contract was that he would supervise installation and train people in various functions. He was sued by one company (the suit failed) because he didn't fulfill this commitment, despite the fact that he was on his way to do it when he was refused entry and returned to Canada when he tried to get a connecting flight at his initial point of entry into the United States. This honest, trustworthy, forthright fellow committed no crime, he simply was born in the wrong place.and has a stereotypical middle-eastern name.
In the San Diego area there are border fences both on land and extending out into the ocean.
A great place to bird was the Tijuana Slough. The last time we were there it was almost impossible due to the constant presence of border patrol helicopters. Their rotors flattened the marshes and the noise they made meant that we could not hear each other speak, let alone detect bird song.
Border Field State Park, another desirable birding spot, with several endangered species breeding there, is now overrun (my terminology) with border agents. People with binoculars and telescopes are not viewed benignly. It is the same at Otay Mesa on the border with Mexico.
My friend contends that civil liberties were already being eroded before 9/11, but after that everything changed for the worse. She cannot even contemplate how draconian it will be under Trump, or what will happen (or has happened) to the wonderful birding borderlands of Arizona and Texas. Based on personal experience I can vouch that these locations were fabulous.
How ironic it is that Ronald Reagan worked so hard to have the Berlin Wall dismantled and now the United States is building its own. Jews for so many centuries were forced to live in ghettos in Europe, now Israel has a border fence and has created its own ghetto. When countries in Central Europe sent their "tired and huddled masses" to the United States, it was salutary and laudable. Now that Syrian refugees are escaping the incredible carnage in their homeland, these same nations are erecting barriers to keep them out.
When I go birding I want to be able to travel freely, to move around at will, to not fear using my binoculars or telescope, to not be fearful of being detained without reason, to take whatever photographs I choose - to simply enjoy the moment.
Where would you go birding today?