Tale of Too’s cities

Migratory bird grounded by Homeland Security Act

Susan Oldland holds up a picture of her missing loved one.

Susan Oldland holds up a picture of her missing loved one.

Photo By Michael Feliciano

For Susan Oldland of Sacramento, what began as a silly office joke has evolved into a story of international significance. Oldland had been living vicariously through the travel adventures of her cockatoo, Mr. Too, dispatching him with vacationing colleagues and then collecting photos taken of the bird in exotic places. In early May, Mr. Too was taken on a visit to Iran, by one of Oldland’s colleagues.

As luck would have it, Iran is one of seven countries classified as “state sponsors of terrorism.” Thanks to new policies and procedures put into effect by the Bush administration’s Homeland Security Act, Mr. Too and his caretakers have been detained since mid-June. After more than five years of nomadic journeys to a list of places that puts many touring rock bands to shame, Mr. Too has been grounded by the drama of one couple’s attempt to adopt an Iranian baby.

Finding friends to tote one’s bird around on vacations to foreign countries might have been more difficult for Oldland were it not for the fact that Mr. Too has the advantage of being a plastic bird.

The inanimate creature came in a Christmas gift basket eight years ago, and when Oldland took her current position at the state Department of Water Resources, she found him a perch in her office cubicle. The adventures of Mr. Too officially started in the spring of 2000, when Oldland sent the bird on a summer vacation to the Florida Everglades with a co-worker, hoping that Mr. Too might be the subject of some interesting travel photos. Mr. Too has been a wayward fowl ever since, even marching in a peace rally in San Francisco (his only trip with Oldland). Like those roaming gnomes who’ve cropped up in Travelocity campaigns, the film Amelie and countless Web sites, Mr. Too has seen much more of the world than your average bird.

“The photos became a big hit around the office,” explained Oldland, “and pretty quickly, people were lining up to take Mr. Too on vacation.” Shortly after returning from his trip to Florida, Mr. Too was whisked off for a couple of weeks in Germany, followed by an excursion to Baja, Mexico, where Mr. Too and his caretaker frolicked in the sun, sand and surf of the Pacific Ocean.

In the spring of 2002, Mr. Too accompanied a friend of Oldland’s to a meditation retreat at Hacienda Verde, a retreat center in Puerto Rico’s lush El Yunque rain forest. After his return from a jaunt to Paris and London that same year, it was apparent that the itinerant bird’s frequent flying had earned him an agency-wide reputation within the Department of Water Resources.

“Even my branch supervisor jumped on board,” said Oldland. “He asked me if we could make Mr. Too available to employees in other departments, as a way to initiate some interdepartmental bonding.” At some point, reports on the adventures of Mr. Too started being tacked onto the end of meeting agendas.

One of Oldland’s office mates returned with the plastic bird from a hiking adventure in Nepal and prepared a PowerPoint presentation to share—on her lunch break, of course.

According to Oldland, Mr. Too’s first few years of travel unfolded without mishap or intrigue. There had been only minor incidents; last year, while in Hawaii attending a wedding at Ka’anapali Beach, he fell into the Pacific Ocean, and someone snapping pictures of him nearly soaked their camera fishing him out.

But Mr. Too’s good-luck streak finally ran out, with the current detainment—in Germany.

The couple who had taken him to Iran in May (both Iranian-born American citizens) were visiting family and continuing a four-year effort to adopt an Iranian orphan. When the opportunity arose for them to take a child home with them, the process of adopting a foreign baby in an age of antiterrorist immigration policy began to unfold.

And so it is that Mr. Too, his companions and their newly adopted baby are now in Frankfurt, Germany, where they have been since mid-June, waiting out a tangle of red, white and blue tape with the U.S. Consulate’s office. After being held up in Iran, they were required to visit the U.S. Consulate before the baby could be admitted to the United States. “Adopting a baby is never a simple process,” said Oldland with frustration, “but this is pretty crazy. … I just talked to [my colleague] a few weeks ago, and he is really stressed out about it.”

The problem is a portion of the Homeland Security Act of 2002— Section 306 of the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act—which revised procedures for the issuance of visas to aliens from nations the U.S. government has deemed to be state sponsors of terrorism. The seven countries now designated as such are North Korea, Cuba, Syria, Sudan, Iraq, Libya and Iran. These revised immigration procedures, coupled with the added layer of complexity involved with the adoption of a foreign baby, have produced a whole laundry list of headaches for these new parents.

When Oldland last saw her co-worker, he had returned to the states briefly to tend to some matters at home and to stop by his office at the Department of Water Resources. He was gathering signatures from his friends and supervisors on a petition of character reference, intended for delivery to Senator Dianne Feinstein, in the hope that action by the senator might help get matters resolved. His wife and the baby were required to remain in Frankfurt.

As of late last week, Oldland and her office mates learned that the family could be held up for another month.

When they do come back, Mr. Too will be along for the ride, armed with a story that will give those gnomes a run for their money.