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Greg Siskind on Immigration Law and Policy

THIS IS NOT MAKING US SAFER

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The surliness just drips from this narrative by Emily Feder, a US citizen, who was detained for hours at JFK Airport in NY. Denying people access to the bathroom, food, water? Collectively punishing people? Is this airport inspection or a warzone? The lack of professionalism exhibited by the officers in this story is, unfortunately, quite common. CBP does way more damage to our country than they help when they treat people this way. Here are a few choice passages.

There was one British tourist in the group. Paul (also not his real
name) was traveling with three friends who had passed through customs
soon after their plane landed and were waiting for him on the other
side of the metal barrier; he suspected he had been detained because of
his dark skin. When he asked if he could go to the bathroom, one of the
guards said, "I wouldn't." "What if someone has to?" I asked. "They
will just have to hold it," the guard responded with a smile. Paul
began to cry. I watched as he, over the course of four hours, went from
feeling exuberant about his trip to New York to despising the entire
country. "I speak the Queen's English," he said to me. "I'm
third-generation British. I came to America because I've always wanted
to come here, and now they've got me so scared that all I want to do is
go home. We're paying for your stupid war anyway."



To be
powerless and mocked at the same time makes one feel ashamed, which
leads quickly to rage. Within a few hours of my arrival, I saw at least
10 people denied the right to use the bathroom or buy food and water. I
watched my traveling companion duck under a barrier, run to the
bathroom and slip back into the holding section -- which, of course,
someone of another ethnicity in a state of panic would be very
reluctant to do. The United States is good at naming enemies, but
apparently we are even better at making them, especially of
individuals. I don't know if it's worse for national security -- and
more embarrassing for Americans -- that this
is the first experience
tourists have of our country, or that some U.S. citizens get treated
this way upon entering their own country.



*****



The guards processed me then, ignoring the order of arrivals, if there
ever had been one. They refused to distribute more complaint forms or
call the supervisor back down at the request of Arab families. One
officer threatened, "I'm talking politely to you now. If you don't sit
down, I won't be talking politely to you anymore." One announced that
because "the American girl" had gotten angry, the families would have
to wait a few more hours. "The supervisor is not coming back."



*****



In the past five years I have worked for human rights and refugee
advocacy organizations in Serbia, Russia and Croatia, including the
International Rescue Committee and USAID. I have traveled to many
different places, some supposedly repressive, and have never seen
people treated with the kind of animosity that Homeland Security showed
that night. In Syria, border control officers were stern but polite. At
other borders there have been bureaucracies to contend with --
excruciating for both Americans and other foreign nationals. I've met
Russian officials with dead, suspicious looks in their eyes and arms
tired from stamping so many visas, but in America, the Homeland
Security officials I encountered were very much alive -- like vultures
waiting to eat.

Thanks to reader lacrossegc for the link.



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Comments

  1. EB's Avatar
    Very very disturbing. This and the Chinese immigrant story. I used to have lot of respect for this country and its fairness.
  2. hmm's Avatar
    The moral: never fly through JFK, the worst US airport there is.

    Still these guys were not chained to a bench, as sometimes happens to those from less fortunate countries.

  3. The Avenger's Avatar
    This is one of the things that must change with the new government. I'd like to hear McCain or Obama talk about this. All these people deserve to be abused themselves... what goes around comes around.
  4. hmm's Avatar
    To Mr Bush's credit things did get better at the border during his presidency. They are now way more polite and professional than 10 years ago. This must be a JFK problem, so avoid this airport at all costs.
  5. USC 's Avatar
    "To Mr Bush's credit things did get better at the border during his presidency. They are now way more polite and professional than 10 years ago. This must be a JFK problem, so avoid this airport at all costs."

    Sure. I remember that in the late 80s/early 90s, USCs (at least at JFK) bypassed immigration and went straight to Customs. Customs checked to make sure that they held a US passport. If you research the statute on this matter you will see that it says that as soon as the Inspector discovers evidence (ie presentation of a US Passport) that the person is a USC the inspection IS AT AN END.

    Clearly, DHS is breaking the law by sending USCs to a "secondary." You might consider breaking the law an improvement, I don't. I plan on doing something about this.
  6. George Chell's Avatar
    Agreed! JFK is one of the worst airports not only in the country but the world as well. However, this does not excuse the DHS..but dont blame the guards. Under George Bush and his so called consevatives we have been slouching towards Soviet style communism whether we like it or not.
  7. Greg Siskind's Avatar
    USC - It's good to hear from you!
  8. hmm's Avatar
    USC, sure I did not mean to say that things improved for US citizens. What could you expect: before 9/11 there was hardly ANY border control for them, so there isn't any room for improvement? But from the point of view of someone on a non-immigrant visa (as in the article that we discuss) things have improved. At least I no longer have to tell them what they should be doing; most of border control agents now know their own regulations.
  9. USC's Avatar
    "USC - It's good to hear from you!"

    Thanks! I read your blog regularly even if I don't always post!
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