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    January 13, 2009

    'Welcome to the United States of America' (and f**k you)

    Posted by: Andoni

    Welcometotheusa 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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    Comments

    1. InExile on Jan 13, 2009 12:13:42 PM:

      This story is disgusting for lack of a better word! With the US economy in free fall and the hospitality industry hurting, those immigration officers should be kissing the visitor's feet for the fact they want to come here and spend money$$$! I have heard many stories from my partner regarding how rude these officials can be and this story does not surprise me. I don't know what it is about immigration officers (everywhere) that think it is ok to treat people like dirt. My treatment here in France has not been wonderful either. I love the way the immigration people count all the stamps on my passport each time I arrive as if I am trying to get away with something. Prior to getting my right to stay here, I was very intimidated by them, always in fear of them saying sorry you have come here too many times and must go back.

    1. Doug on Jan 13, 2009 12:22:40 PM:

      Traveling relatively frequently between the US and Canada I can tell you there is no one more arrogant or power hungry than the INS agents at the border. I am embarrassed that the INS is the first face visitors see when they enter this country.

    1. Tim C on Jan 13, 2009 1:09:49 PM:

      In all seriousness, write a letter to Customs/Border Patrol and copy your Congressman. Nothing will change if you don't tell someone who can orchestrate change. Complaining here doesn't solve anything.

    1. Jimmy Mac on Jan 13, 2009 7:49:54 PM:

      I can echo the comments about the reception visitors/US citizens get at the British Columbia border when entering the US. There needs to be a HUGED house-cleaning of the INS (or whatever they are called these days) personnel. There are a lot of people who need and want jobs and would most likely be better at it than soe many of these over-paid, over-fed arrogant a**holes.

    1. tim on Jan 13, 2009 9:02:05 PM:

      I agree with my "brother," Tim C. -- send a letter to your member of Congress and senator. Otherwise, nothing will get done. Nothing may be done anyway, but if you don't tell, they won't ask for an explanation. Our country has suffered immeasurably during the Bush Administration. One of the reasons we have suffered is because of arrogance and hubris, fostered by the incumbent president and vice president.

      Our country has to come to the realization that we are one among many, that all deserve respect, and that we need to be welcoming of visitors, both their presence and their ideas.

      I remember my late grandmother telling me of her treatment coming through Ellis Island in 1900 -- also intimidating, threatening. As a country, we've always felt we're better than everyone else, a nation ordained by God, and everyone else is inferior. If we really want to be part of this world community, seeking respect and safety, our attitude has to change, starting with President (and I have hope of that starting next week), all the way down the line to the people who are supposed to be the first to welcome a visitor to our shores.

      BTW, it's no better when you're American and gay and trying to come to the INS line with your partner. When coming back from St. Martin with re-entry into the U.S via Puerto Rico, I was told to step back away from my partner of 28 years because, and I quote the agent, "The United States government does not recognize the two of you being as constituting a family."

    1. jpeckjr on Jan 14, 2009 12:17:23 AM:

      Immigration officers everywhere are trained to be suspicious of arriving non-citizens. I've been asked pointed questions when traveling internationally, including when entering Canada by automobile. But I have never been treated rudely, firmly and professionally, but never rudely. I agree with Tim and Tim. Complain to your Member of Congress and Senators, and to soon Secretary Napolitano. I want our borders to be safe and our immigration system effective (it was broken long before the Bushies), but rudeness like this has no place at any American point of legal entry.

    1. Nitin Karani on Jan 14, 2009 3:53:30 AM:

      For the past few years, my cousins have been trying to push me to come visit them in the US. This story makes me angry and never want to come to the US, unless I really have to.

    1. SeaMex on Jan 14, 2009 7:40:55 PM:

      This is a huge problem that most of the time goes undocumented. I could tell you some of our experiences but it makes me sick to even think about it. We always follow the law to the T but have been harassed for up to 4 hours some of which I have on tape. There are no standards one officer could grant you six months, while another might only grant you six days. Then tell you if you file for an extension your visa will be canceled. Grabbing your wallet and cell phone from your hands and playing good cop bad cop. Telling you they know you are working in the US. (uh no I’m not) Change This !!!

    1. SeaMex on Jan 14, 2009 7:42:29 PM:

      This is a huge problem that most of the time goes undocumented. I could tell you some of our experiences but it makes me sick to even think about it. We always follow the law to the T but have been harassed for up to 4 hours some of which I have on tape. There are no standards one officer could grant you six months, while another might only grant you six days. Then tell you if you file for an extension your visa will be canceled. Grabbing your wallet and cell phone from your hands and playing good cop bad cop. Telling you they know you are working in the US. (uh no I’m not) Change This !!!

    1. teg on Jan 15, 2009 7:02:08 AM:

      Why do I think being embarrased about your country comes rather easily to you? As a US citizen, I have been fingerprinted, photographed, questioned as to where I will be staying and who I will be meeting, physically searched, shaken down for bribes, intimidated and ignored by immigration officers all over the world. By the same token, I have brought dozens of Muslim nation guests to the US over the last seven years and none has ever faced unpolite or improper treatment.

      Immigration officers are bureaucrats, that's all, they are not an extension of George Bush's White House or policies. Like the others say, write a letter and I suspect some type of action will result (which would not in the overseas examples I have listed)instead of cheaply bashing the States.

    1. justmeee on Jan 18, 2009 8:19:57 AM:

      This sucks, and is typical. I have lived in three countries abroad and in each of them the US embassy goes out of its way to treat the nationals of those countries like shit. That's a good part of why my partner and I are settling in Europe and don't give a fuck if he EVER visits the US. In a short time Americans are going to start suffering even more from our reputation abroad, and it will be too late.

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