January 13, 2009
'Welcome to the United States of America' (and f**k you)
Posted by: Andoni
Regular readers of this blog know I was in Thailand over the holidays. Like any person who enters the United States, I had to go through Immigration and Customs (now a part of Homeland Security) upon returning home to the United States.
The routine is familiar to those who have traveled outside the US. When you you get off the plane you get routed down a one way corridor where you eventually see a huge sign that says "Welcome to the United States of America." This leads to a large open area where dozens of immigration officers wait in individual cubicles to check your credentials to make sure you are eligible to enter the US. As you approach this massive check point area, signs divide you into two lines, one for "citizens and permanent residents," and another one for "visitors."
Most of the time there is a triage officer in this open area to direct you to the proper line.
On this trip, I was the first person off the plane and as I hurried up the escalator and down the corridor, I came to the main check point area, and it was entirely void of other travelers. Either we were the first plane of the day, or the passengers from the prior planes had completely cleared out. There was absolutely no one in any of the lines. As I started to get in the line for "citizens and permanent residents," the triage officer intercepted me and directed me to go right over to the officer in booth #29. This booth happened to be on the side of the room designated for "visitors."
I did exactly what the officer told me to do, I went directly up to the immigration officer in booth 29 who was passing her time chatting with a guard. Upon approaching the immigration officer, she angrily barked at me to retreat and go back and wait for her to call me. I wanted to say, "But I was simply doing what that other officer told me to do," but I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to do anything to delay my getting home.
So I went back to the line and waited for her to call me. She made me wait for 4 minutes and 30 seconds by my watch. She looked at me several times to show me that she knew I was there, but continued to chit chat with the guard. Other lines were moving, but mine was not.
When she finally beckoned me to come forward, I presented my US passport, and her first words were, "I'm so sorry, I didn't know you were a citizen or I wouldn't have done that."
I was flabbergasted. She thought she could treat me that way because she thought I was a foreign visitor instead of a US citizen? Words cannot describe how angry I was.
Is it official government policy to treat foreign visitors rudely or do these workers simply reflect some of the same anti-immigrant sentiment expressed by the country as a whole? The problem is visitors who get off airplanes are not undocumented (illegal) immigrants. They are people who have proper paperwork to enter legally. You cannot get on an airplane bound for the US without a visa (which means they have already examined your background and intent) or are from a visa waiver country.
Chris has has written and I have commented on the really bad reputation the United States has in foreign countries for the arrogant way we treat foreign citizens who wish to apply for a visa at one of our embassies to visit the US. I have now found out by accident that the bad treatment doesn't stop at our overseas embassies. If one is successful at gaining a visa to visit the US, this terrible treatment continues even as you enter the US.
The huge sign may say "Welcome to the United States of America," however the attitude conveyed by some of the immigration officers is, "Fuck you, we don't want you here."
I am embarrassed for my country. Who do we think we are? This has got to stop.
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