Imagine visiting a foreign country and when you’re ready to come home, you’re refused entry onto your plane and thrown into jail because officials think you were in the country illegally. That’s exactly what happened to two Americans last week.
22-year-old Will Lucas, a resident of Magnolia, Texas, is a do-gooder. A humanitarian. He and his girlfriend Sam had spent most of the summer in Asia; first in Thailand, where they volunteered at an orphanage, and then in Malaysia, where they helped build a sustainability project.
“He’s volunteered all his life,” Denise Lucas, Will’s mother, told KTRK. “He was with AmeriCorps and then Habitat for Humanity.”
As the couple was preparing to board their flight home, a Malaysian immigrant agent looked at their passports and saw they did not have stamps showing that they had entered the country. Convinced they had entered the country illegally, they threw the couple into jail.
Denise was notified by Sam’s father that he couldn’t get the couple by phone, and airline records showed they had never boarded their flight home.
“Forty-three phone calls later, we learned they had been detained.”
She was able to speak by phone with Will briefly on Wednesday. He called conditions in the detention area “deplorable.”
“He told me that the border agent in Malaysia waved them through the line without stamping the passports,” Denise said. “He said the agent was probably waiting for money. He said, ‘Mom, I missed it.'”
With the help of some big name Texas politicians, Will and Sam were released from custody a few days later and were scheduled to board a plane and arrive back in the U.S. earlier this week.
But all that heartache because they didn’t get their passport stamped when they entered the country.
I know that in Israel they don’t stamp your passport – unless you ask, and even then it’s iffy – because it can cause problems if you try to enter/exit some other countries in the Middle East (although I believe their border patrol will give you a stamped piece of paper, which they staple to your passport, which is almost just as good). Lots of Americans had been to Cuba, via a non-U.S. country, before the gates were open in 2015 (and I’m sure it’s happening again, now that the current regime closed the gates again), and the Cuban border patrol discreetly didn’t stamp their passports. And although I don’t remember the circumstances, there have been one or two times, YEARS ago, that my passport didn’t get stamped when I was traveling overseas and entered a foreign country. But do you know what? I will SOOO make sure I have a stamp every time from here on in. Because if you think about it, that little stamp is the only physical proof a traveler has that says it’s OK to be in that country.
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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary