US representatives moved swiftly into denial mode in the wake of Monday's New York Times claim that homeland security secretary Michael Chertoff had proposed excluding UK citizens "of Pakistani origin" from the US visa waiver programme. The visa waiver programme allows visa-free travel to the US for citizens from a select group …
hmmm its a toughie this one
i can see both points of view here. surely the amercians have the right to be picky now. i, for one, have a criminal record for a drugs offence 10+ years ago. now, the US has the right to refuse me entry, yet i am no threat at all to their security or defence. they are simply trying to put their own nations security above 'foreigners' (myself included) feelings. i only wish the UK thought more about UK citizens than everywhere else in the World.
its the same as when all those busts were happening a few months ago and all the furore saying 'why pick on us, blah blah' the answer was simple. it wasnt white non-muslims blowing up busses, attempting to blow up night clubs, attempting to kidnap and kill muslim soldiers. it was a muslim. now, i am, of course, not saying all terrorists are muslims - i know its only a tiny majority, but the americans must be thinking the same thing - if they can vet everyone fitting the demographic then they should be safer.
we seem more that happy to assume every teenager with a hoody and baseball cap is a thief, every 'drug taker' is a burglar yadda yadda... yet when a religion or skin colour comes into the equation everyone shits themselves about political correctness
the USA isnt under threat from christian bombers (well not english ones anyway - they have plenty of nutter christan fundamentalists over there already) - they are under threat from a very small minority of muslims. to be honest if i was an american i would want to know everything was being done to stop the threat of 911 happening again. its only a matter of time before all muslims are checked, and to be honest could you blame them? in the UK the majority are almost always put in danger due to the 'rights' of the minority (paedophiles etc)
all that will happen otherwise is that every UK citizen will not be allowed to use the waiver system, just because some muslims feel it is 'racist'.
Having once been fined £45 and £25 costs for the heinous crime of having a Black and White licence for a colour TV, it seems that I am now such a hazard to US National Security that I cannot qualify for the Visa Waiver Programme.
Well, thanks, USA, but I think I'll just skip visiting you instead, along with everyone else who dislikes the idea of being considered a potential terrorist just because you've dug yourselves into a hole so deep that you can't see you way out.
It's not racist - or is it
Just to be another annoying pedant, but going after Muslims isn't racist. Muslims aren't a race, it's a religion.
You do not have to be dark/muslim/Pakistani to get rotten treatment
What the US customs people fail to understand is that they are not just guardians of their country, but also its ambassadors. They also work on the assumption that the majority of foreigners want to harm the US, which of course not true. They do seem to be working towards changing that. See the following example.
Last year I went to Atlanta, Georgia, for a conference and (as a British citizen) did not need a visa. I am white, non-muslim (staunch atheist actually), non-Pakistani, and do not have so much as a speeding ticket to my name (maybe that itself is suspicious, can anybody be that squeeky clean?). However, the treatment you get from the customs official who "welcomed" me into the US was nothing short of disgraceful. If, after spending 6 or 7 hours listening to an engine drone you do not instantly respond to any of the questions, mumbled by the Man in Blue, you get shouted at. A nice example:
Man in Blue: how many bags have you got?
Me : what do you mean, the ones I am carrying here, or including the check-in luggage?
Man in Blue: HOW MANY BAGS HAVE YOU GOT??!!
Me: Two here, one checked in
Man in Blue: *****HOW MANY BAGS HAVE YOU GOT??!!*****
Me: A grand total of 3.
Man in Blue: Put you left hand there (vague gesture)
Me: Excuse me?
Man in Blue: PUT YOUR LEFT HAND THERE !!(angry vague gesture more-or-less towards finger print reader)
Me: Do you mean "put my left index finger there"? Sorry, I thought you meant my hand.
Man in Blue: HAVE YOU NOT BEEN TO THE STATES BEFORE (at 95 dB)
Me: Yes, in 2000, before all this was necessary
He was not amused. The more angry he got, the more (chilingly, admitted) polite I got, which riled him further. I actually got the feeling he resented having to let me through. Other officials at the bagage reclaim and check-in, and reclaiming again in the main building (Atlanta Airport is easily the least efficient in this regard) was made more interesting by other "helpful" people in blue shouting at everyone to move quickly when there was just ONE scanner working for an entire 747-load or two.
I was happy I had a new pasport with stamps only from "good-guy" nations such as Japan and Australia. Heavens (which I do not believe in but anyway) knows what would have happened if I still had my old pasport with a stamp from Tunisia with lovely Arabic lettering. That would be Guantanamo Bay for me most likely. As a result, I have NOT enrolled for the same conference (held in San Antonio, Texas) this year, just to avoid flying to the US again. The year after it will be held elsewhere.
Again, you might contend he is just doing his job, but a bit of politeness would have made my entry far quicker and more enjoyable. Otherwise the people in Atlanta were friendly.
I will go back to the US (if I am still welcome) but only to visit friends, I think.
(or should I have used an alias to ever be allowed back ;-)
Nobody likes border gaurds (except hookers, but that's another story) yet you have to realise they do have a tough job: defending the frontier, and acting as ambassadors.
I've a bit of a checkered past, and I know my file is flagged up on various countries' systems from time-to-time, mais c'est la vie.
I'll never forget dealing with Aussie Immigration though when traveling on slightly, errr inaccurate, credentials. After a business-like but searching, short interrogation I was waved through. Two minutes later and twenty yards further along a corridor then down an escalator, a uniformed federal cop wearing an ear piece standing next to a barrier smilingly bade me welcome to Australia, addressing me by my full name.
For at least ten minutes after passing by I grinningly thought what a nice touch on entering a state for the first time. Then I realised it's a polite way of saying "we know you're bloody here mate."
By the way, anyone know what happened to all those fancy (not so) hidden image capture cameras Manchester Airport had on its Irish departures corridor....? Amerikay you say....?
All Immigration Officers are Rude
Actually they're not, however many, as the person above indicates, are.
His experience is fairly common, and actually it was fairly common prior to the passage of the so-called Patriot Act. They were just as rude, but didn't take your fingerprints.
The problem here is that ANY immigration officer can arbitrarily chuck out you of the country. The person above was actually quite lucky he didn't find himself on a plane home - or more accurately he was lucky he didn't find himself in departures for 3 days waiting for a seat on a plane home.
Yes they do have that power, and yes they do use it without any thought of consequence, without any consideration to the thousands of pounds you might have spent on your holiday - they're assholes.
My first experience of US Customs and Immigration was almost identical to that of the guy above, the only difference was the location.
Now consider what I went through when I came back with a Visa that allowed me to live and work in the US. When they HAD to let me in because I had paperwork telling them so, they took it very personally. Believe me when I say they made we jump through every available hoop, and consequently miss my connecting flight - 3 hours later. I should say I'm never rude, I don't get flippant with them (mostly because Americans don't really understand it if you are), and I answered every question and always did everything I was told.
So I'm convinced they just don't like people from the UK.
However I can say this. In between those two arrivals I happened to take a trip to LA. The immigration officer that time was all sweetness and light, it was almost as if she didn't know I was English.
British Immigration Officers seem to be a completely different kettle of fish. Not only are they not rude to everyone that wants to come to our shores, but they are also fairly accommodating if you do fuck up. My wife accidentally stayed for 6 months once (it said she could on the passport stamp - so we weren't breaking any laws as such), and ok they gave us a hard time when we came back from France during that time, but in the end all they did was extend the time she was allowed to stay by another 3 months. They understood she wasn't cheating any system, but wanted to see if England was somewhere we would be happy settling down - before we went through the paperwork nightmare that every country makes you go through if you want to emigrate.
Try that in the US and see what happens. Actually don't because they'll stick you in departures for 3 days, waiting for a seat on a plane - and won't let you back in for 10 years.
Not all guards are rude (and a side order of curry)
Regarding the discussion on border guard rudeness I kicked off: not all are rude, and my past experiences (pre 9/11) in the US actually were quite good. And the green forms you need to fill in are worth a laugh anyway (question: Are you entering the US to commit illegal or immoral acts? Has ANYBODY EVER answered "yes" to that? If so they should be sent back as too thick). The two pre-9/11 visits involved no more than a number of perfectly reasonable questions, asked in an ordinary tone of voice. I am always quite willing to cooperate with border guards, and have never had any trouble (even in Germany in the Rote Armee Fraction days). After 9/11 I visited Canada, and the searches were clearly a lot stricter, and rightly so. I would happily have let the border guard mentioned in the earlier post search my luggage, I have nothing to hide. In Australia I even indicated that the sandals in my suitcase might contain a little soil (and therefore unwanted visitors) before they asked explicitly, and had them check that.
Indeed, border checks are essential, and I wish them every success in finding terrorists, and other criminals.
The other point I would like to make is on the "suspicious" behaviour involving frequent toilet visits: This might be indicative of having had a bad curry recently: AHA! link to India and therefore Pakistan (its a neighbouring country after all)
You see: there is method in the madness!
I've only ever been to the US once, and the only way I can describe the immigration counters is: Hostile. It feels like if you're not a US citizen, you are obviously looking to damage the US in some way. I was more frightened going through US customs on a valid business trip than going through Hong Kong customs on an expired German child's passport when I was 9, without my parents. Even going through Chinese immigration is better!
One of the funniest comments I overheard has to be at Heathrow airport, from an American family queuing up at passport control:
"Gawd, Whai do we hav to waaait with aawl these people? Don't they know we're Americans? This is rehdiculous."
Obviously never gone through US customs as a foreigner then...
As to the Pakistani profiling, it sounds like the same type of paranoia that stopped an Asian family from flying soon after 9/11. Some ignorant passengers complained that they wouldn't fly if the Asian family did, kicked up a fuss, and the family got kicked off.
That, and I thought it was the Saudi's the Americans needed to worry about?
Didn't seem to mind letting Irish terrorists in
They never seemed to mind allowing Irish terrorists (actual terrorists, not just suspects) onto their shores for the odd bit of fund raising. Infact, the senators, congressmen, police officers and firemen who helped raise the money for the killing of British citizens didn't seem to mind much at all.
Ofcourse, I don't think that there's a large group of Pakistani-American voters to sway.
Not all guards are rude (about 50/50)
A few years ago I went to the US as part of a large party of snowboarders (there were around 20 of us) and from our experiences at US Border Control in Atlanta I think the spilt is about 50/50 (professional attitude vs powertripping assholes)
The guard I got (we ended up fairly spread out in seperate queues) was friendly, fast and efficient. He even cracked a joke about my limp (I'd damaged my knee recently), and how he could perform amateur surgery - I forget the exact joke but it was quite funny and not half as spooky as that probably sounds now
It was relatively painless and whilst thorough was quite a friendly welcome to the country
About 50% of my freinds had similar experiences - the others were amazing
3 of our group were nearly refused entry for not knowing the exact address of where we were staying. They were able to give the address of the chalet letting company and the resort, but for fairly obvious reasons could not give the exact address of the chalet they were staying in down to the door number (since that's allocated on arrival)
Other stories were just as bizarre and in all we had to wait about 45 minutes for them all to clear customs
The 3 stick in my mind though as although we were not close enough to overhear the conversations exactly (they aren't exactly keen on people waiting on the other side of the desks), from where I was stood I could see them being grilled and basically shouted at. When they came thorugh they were visibly shaken and angry
To put it in perspective a little we aren't teenagers or even 20 somethings having a jolly (I wish) - just for those of you out there who have a mental image of a teenager winding up security. We are all professionals and one of the guys grilled is a company director
Its partly down to this experience that as a group we've never been back - Canada's been much more pleasant and has replaced the US 3 years running
If the US decide to start alienating my fellow countrymen based on ANY stereotype (other than maybe criminal records or actual past records). I would have no problems boycotting them all together - I hope our government puts it to them in exactly that context, it's all or nothing. Either the US is our friend and it values our business or it can remove the country entirely from the visa waiver program
And as for sharing any data on our citizens other than basic outstanding criminal records and ID cards in general - no comment