Wednesday, September 26, 2012

What Do You Mean Babcia Can't Visit?

Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski at West Point
I recently had the opportunity to greet Polish president Bronislaw Komorowski at the West Point Military Academy. The president was on hand for a wreath laying ceremony in honor of Brigadier General Tadeusz Kosciuszko. If you are not familiar with this revolutionary war hero, the Polish engineer was appointed by George Washington to design the defenses at West Point. Many credit him with stopping the  advance of the British navy up the Hudson River.  I was at the ceremony as part of a welcoming delegation from Connecticut.  With the Polish and American anthems playing in the background, I began thinking of my own Polish heritage.

Attorney Adrian Baron and David Goclowski
of the Polonia Business Association
Growing up in Rocky Hill, being able to speak Polish as a kid was great.  I had several cousins and friends that were also able to speak Polish.  It was as if we had our own secret language. We grew up being proud Americans, but our Polish background was also important.  I was a member of both Polish and American boy scout troops.  I grew up speaking both languages.  At the time, Poland was behind the Iron Curtain.  I had uncles who hadn't seen their wives for decades.  When the Iron Curtain fell, I was sure that the United States would allow these family members to visit without the need of a tourist visa.

West Point cadets at the ceremony
If you are not familiar with the tourist visa, here it is in a nutshell.  Let's say my wife's mother wants to visit us in Connecticut.  She has to take the day off from work and get up at 2 AM  in order to make the 6 hour trip to the American Embassy in Warsaw.  The presumption in law is that everyone who applies for a tourist visa intends to stay.  As a result, my mother in law has to prove that she really is just coming for a visit.  She has to show proof that she has money for the trip and that she has some sort of economic investment in Poland that would guarantee she would return.   She has to schedule her appointment months in advance to meet with the embassy.  She must bring a filled out application, photos and they will take her fingerprints.  You have to pay a fee which is substantial for many Polish salaries. You then stand outside the embassy in line for hours.  If you don't get the visa, you are out of luck.  They keep the cash and you get to take that long ride home for nothing.  Imagine if you had to do this every time you wanted to visit the Bahamas or even Canada.

So what's the big deal?  I know what you're thinking.  I have it made.  The United States Government is preventing my mother in law from visiting me.  Maybe I'm strange.  I like my mother in law.  You might find it surprising to learn that the citizens of all of the former Axis powers do not need to go through this dog and pony show. (If you are not familiar with World War II, it is the one featured in the first Captain America movie).  The citizens of Germany, Japan and Italy can come freely to the United States.  The citizens of Poland cannot.

It's strange. The Polish are considered one of America's staunchest allies in the region. They have a long history of supporting our nation.  Poles were among the first European settlers in the US. They were at Jamestown. Polish generals taught our young nation how to build fortifications and develop a cavalry during the Revolutionary War. Polish code breakers decoded the Nazi enigma code during WWII. Polish fighter pilots are credited for the most shot down Nazi planes in the Battle of Britain. The efforts of the Polish born Pope and the members of the Solidarity movement helped bring down the Soviet Union. They gave the world the poetry of Milosz, the music of Chopin and the science of Copernicus and Madame Curie. Poland is one of the most stable European allies of the United States. Our NATO ally was with American soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. There are statues to Polish kings in New York's Central Park. There are cities, towns, bridges, and highways named after Polish citizens who helped our nation.  That guy on the horse in front of the Federal building in Hartford?  He's a Polish general that helped our nation gain independence.  Ironically, Polish citizens get to walk past that monument on the way to the immigration office.

It's shameful that Poles are required to get visas to visit our country.  Most European Union countries have no visa requirements.  Countries that have histories of being less supportive of our efforts.Many Polish citizens do not have the opportunity to visit these monuments to their countrymen.  It also means lost tourism dollars to Connecticut.  My mother in law would love to visit Blue Back Square, the casinos, or New Britain's Little Poland neighborhood. And the woman knows how to shop.

Isn't it time we showed our thanks to this longtime ally. Why can't someone's babcia visit her grand kids in Connecticut.  There are approximately 300,000 Poles living in the state.  New Britain has an officially designated Little Poland neighborhood.  It's time to let babcia come visit.  If you agree, contact your local officials and tell them to drop the visa requirement for Polish citizens.


Anonymous said...

"If you are not familiar with World War II, it is the one featured in the first Captain America movie".

Love this quote! lol I am in tears You are a wonderful writer.

Mark Urban said...

Attorney Baron,

I wanted to thank you for discussing this issue. My uncle has not seen his wife in 15 years because of the requirement. I hope others follow your example. I enjoy your humorous writing style. I thought lawyers were supposed to be stuffed shirts.


Anonymous said...

Great article, so true. However, the problem with the VWP is two-fold. Of course the US needs to change its legislation and we, the Polish Americans, need to push for this change in Congress. However, since Poland joined the EU, it is not only about what Poland can do anymore by itself, but what the EU can do for Poland. Of course the US does not recognize the EU as one country, but under European Law Poland is subject to the EU laws. Thus, more work also needs to be done on the Polish side to the European Commission!

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