Friday, November 21, 2003

Nokia 3650 Phone with T-Mobile service: "NEWSLETTER "The number of countries that truly like the US is sadly dwindling. Our 'best friend' Britain seems fractured between those that vociferously hate us and those that don't. Our second best friend, who also sent troops to the Iraq War, is undoubtedly Australia. And so, what do we do when a 30 year old Australian woman, a frequent business traveler to the US and the editor of a middle class Australian women's magazine, flying to the US to interview Olivia Newton-John for an article on breast cancer, tries to enter the country in Los Angeles? Do we smile and welcome her to the US and hope she has a pleasant stay? No. Instead, she is locked up for fifteen hours, allegedly denied any food or drink, not allowed to make phone calls to lawyers or to family or to anyone, given intrusive personal searches, bullied and embarrassed, then marched in handcuffs back to the gate and placed on a return flight back to Australia.

Was she a suspected terrorist, cleverly disguised as a harmless and friendly Australian? Was she smuggling drugs or explosives? Did she - gasp - make a bad joke about bombs? No, none of these things. She was 'guilty' only of a visa technicality - she was traveling on a 'B' visa instead of an 'I' visa. So, instead of politely explaining the problem and then helping her solve it, she was denied all the human rights which the US goes to war over to insist other countries give to their citizens, and then deported.

This story was front page news in Australia, but, sadly, didn't seem to make the papers at all in the US. Do we condone such treatment of our friends and allies? Do we think this is an appropriate response for an offence no more serious, surely, than driving on an expired licence?

Last time I arrived into Britain, I couldn't help but notice the contrast between passing through British Immigration and Customs and the same experience a few days later in the US. In Britain, neatly dressed immigration officers in civvy suits and ties processed each person. I joked about being a asylum seeker and they laughed back at me. A group of suspected illegal immigrants were seated in a corner of the immigration hall, while a lady immigration officer fussed over them in a motherly fashion and gave them glasses of orange juice. As for Customs, I went through the green lane and didn't see a single Customs officer anywhere.

But a typical entry back home into the US involves first of all being interviewed by a hostile uniformed armed Immigration Officer (why do immigration officers at airports, in secure zones, need guns?), then a repeat performance one, two, or even three times by Customs officers before finally escaping into the freedom outside.

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