Sunday, March 18, 2007

this is your democracy

Brad DeLong links to Gideon Rachman’s FT blog:

Gideon Rachman's Blog: Next week I hope to visit the US. I will put it no more strongly than that. I have learnt not to take my right to visit America for granted – ever since being ignominiously deported in 2003. When I rang my wife from Dulles airport to tell her that I was being put on the first plane home, she briefly feared that I was about to reveal a double life as an international drug-smuggler or pornographer. Nothing so interesting. I had simply forgotten to get myself a journalist’s visa.

The best stories of this sort usually involve the innocent foreigner being shackled or bundled off to the state penitentiary. Not in my case. The officials dealing with me were polite, sympathetic – but implacable. I protested feebly that I was a former Fulbright scholar who had lived in the US for several years. I had written for American journals, I knew important people, Britain was fighting alongside the US in Iraq. None of it cut any ice. As one of the immigration people explained: “We could have made an exception before 9/11, but not now.”...

As a result of my unfortunate oversight, entering the US is always a bit of a performance. I am now wearily familiar with the look of consternation that crosses the immigration officer’s face, as my name comes up on the computer. Then I get pulled over for a “secondary inspection”. Usually, after 15 minutes or so, I am on my way.

But I am far from alone in feeling uneasy when I find myself in an American immigration line. In November, a survey of more than 2,000 regular foreign travellers found that 66 per cent of them agreed with the statement: “If you make a simple mistake or say the wrong thing to US immigration or security officials, you might be detained for hours or worse.”... 39 per cent of regular travellers rate the US “worst” for immigration and entry procedures; the Middle East came second on 16 per cent. Discover America complains of a “climate of fear” and a “travel crisis”. It cites a “near 20 per cent drop in the United States share of overseas travellers since 2000” and claims that this has cost 200,000 jobs and $93bn in revenue.

Rachman continues:

As for myself, when I am in Washington next week (God willing), I will make a point of cultivating people who might one day get top government jobs. I would do this anyway for professional reasons. But I also have an ulterior motive. Perhaps one day, one of my friends will get me off the immigration watch list. I explained my reasoning recently to one National Security Council hopeful. His reply was not encouraging: “Sorry – but it would easier for me to launch an air strike than to get your name out of the immigration computer.”

DeLong tags the post with “Politics: Bushisms”, among others, but immigration stupidity is a proud bipartisan tradition. It's true that this administration has lowered the already subterranean bar for acceptable immigration governance, but the immigration system is broken largely because that’s what suits most Americans. “Make it easy for us to go where we want and hard for others to come here,” is the task they have charged successive governments with, and successive governments, backed by the full military and financial clout of the U.S. government, have responded.

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