A Parallel Experience

This morning friends in New Zealand forwarded me a link to this sorry tale of an experience with US Customs & Border Patrol.

Obviously bekitty had a much worse time of it than I did. As I have said, the CBP officers that I dealt with were very sympathetic. I was very lucky. However, strip away the abuse that gets handed out to suspected illegal immigrants in Los Angeles and you are left with a fairly similar story. Except that bekitty had a perfectly legitimate visa.

This is the sort of problem I am facing. Even if you have a visa, CBP can and will make life difficult for you if you come and go too often. They can and do deny people entry because they suspect them of traveling for purposes other than those stated on their visa. And the key word there is “suspect”. If they suspect you, no matter how wrong they may be, you are guilty until such time as you can go back to your own country and spend a lot of money on lawyers to prove your innocence.

I also note that the visa descriptions are drawn so tightly that it is pretty much impossible to avoid violating their terms if you travel regularly and for more than a few days at a time.

Hopefully this will help explain why I am taking things slowly and carefully. I don’t want to waste any more money on lawyers or plane fares until I’m pretty certain that I will be allowed to travel.

8 thoughts on “A Parallel Experience

  1. I suspect that these days US Customs & Border Patrol personnel are given an absolutely rigid, tick the box, computer guided security protocol to follow and woe betide any agent who is caught exercising the quality of mercy. Even given that this is true the bekitty case reeks of of a story that goes way beyond even the most rigid of border security checks. I doubt whether anyone will find out what was really behind bekittys treatment.

    You are very wise in exercising caution Cheryl. ‘ Your ‘ more amiable CBP officers were likely to have been as much in thrall to a strict bureaucratically exact system as were, and they are probably subject to random checks of their efficiency and compliance with correct practice ….with the threat of instant dismissal ever present.

  2. Still and all, a strict bureaucratic system can give a disabled person their drugs on request, give a person in lockup a place to lay down and give a shivering woman a blanket.

    I was at a Delegates reception for ACTA negotiators last night (being one of the recognised PublicACTA fomentors makes me a stakeholder!) and diplomats from first world countries spoke openly of how even they avoid travel to the US.

    *Shakes head*.

    1. By multiple accounts, the US system treats those that aren’t perceived as complying with their often apparently non-sensical rules (e.g. if you aren’t married you aren’t a couple was probably a factor) badly. Worse than most other developed countries. This is wrong, stupid and counter-productive.

      However, bekitty was given fair warning that she was at risk of breaking the ‘rules’ with her intended actions (she probably didn’t realise the potential consequences of this), and would possibly have her visa withdrawn/not extended. She appears to have been treated worse than yourself in terms of what happened once she was denied entry – I wonder how much of this was due to the amount of time before you were put on a plane.

      So I think the main point reinforced by this story is that the consequences of being denied entry to the US are potentially somewhat worse than being stuck in the transit lounge for 6-48 hours and being seperated from those that you care about.

      And this is one reason why I choose to spend my disposable income in places other than the US. Others don’t have this easy option.

  3. The post made me physically ill. But thank you for sharing it.

    This is one of the multiple reasons why I wish to leave the US and become a citizen somewhere else. Human rights are not a priority in this country; which is shocking for a place with the kind of economic privilege and power it has as one of the G8.

    I hope that lots of people in the fannish community read it, including folks who have the privilege not to know about such things, and learn.

    I am glad I can go to Canada because it is an escape from the bubble. When I stay here too long I feel trapped.

  4. I visited the UK two weeks ago (for Eastercon) and I was pulled at Heathrow and questioned. Next to me were two women who had also been pulled.
    In my case, I was on a temp passport due to a passport loss and although I was within visa waiver for Germany, after truthfully responding that I lived in Germany, I was further questioned (at which point they accepted the xerox of my visa). I may note here that my residency status in Germany had nothing to do with the fact that as an American citizen I have a theoretical right to enter the UK without any other documentation than my passport. Clearly, the UK was making the decision that it would not be a party to extending any eligibility I might have to re-enter Germany within the parameters of the 90 day visa waiver program between the US and Germany. This is exactly what happened to bekitty and Cheryl, I believe. The difference being that I was in a third country which was apparently attempting to enforce the rules on the behalf of the second country.

    Next to me, the two other American women that had been pulled had been waiting much longer. They were both there to “visit their fiances”. I put the quotes, because they both were planning on staying the maximum 60 days, one had not bothered to purchase a return ticket, and the other had (legally, with proper paperwork, brought her cat). I believe the first (18 years old) was sent back, the second went into further questioning. The first had no job to return to, the second had a leave from university. Border Patrol actually look at the circumstances, at least in my experiences in other countries. Their goal is to prevent “economic refugees” and the marriage of foreigners to nationals without the proper visa entry (which could result in qualifying for benefits after entering improperly, that is, with the wrong visa status).

    The USA border for foreigners and visa holders, at this point in time, more closely resembles my experience in pre- Soviet breakdown Ukraine. My husband has a Green Card and I have stood in the line with him at JFK (visa line, not citizen or foreigner lines). Because he looks Western European, he is usually treated well. The last time we went through, the petty bully with a Napoleon-complex at the head of the line was so rough, with a meek and mild Sikh (threatening to send him back because”he threatened her” and we all yelled, “No, he didn’t”) that it was clear, long before the Watts incident, that serious change in attitude needs to come from the top.

    It’s good that you are highlighting these incidents: nice to know what is happenning.

  5. G:

    Thanks for the feedback. I’m pretty sure that immigration officials are badly behaved the world over. Part of that, of course, is that they have real cases to deal with, and many people who simply don’t bother to check the rules before traveling.

    Mind you, one of the things that irritates me about the US is that the more you come and go within the rules, the more they assume that you are likely to break them the next time you visit. This seems very much a case of catching people who are easy to catch rather than catching people who are actually guilty.

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