Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Immigration Nightmares at American Airports

January 14, 2012

By Saeed Qureshi

If you have gone through the immigration procedures at the American airports, you will bear me out that it is nothing short of a nightmare. The immigration officers randomly pick up the passengers and send them to a separate enclosure where they are subjected to intriguing and harassing enquiries starting from their visits aboard, purpose of staying, whom they met and how long and where they stayed etc.

Even if a passenger has already made several visits to and fro United States and also is an American citizen, he or she is asked these redundant questions and fingerprinted again. From every incoming flight quite a few passengers are made to wait in special rooms for additional questioning. Such patently discriminating treatment is mostly meted out to the passengers from the Indian subcontinent and Arab countries.

A passenger with a beard, turban, wearing long robes, women wearing headscarf or those having wheatish pigment are vulnerable to additional scrutiny. For travelers of Pakistani origin and more specifically with such suffixes or prefixes as Muhammad and Ali, the interrogation is nothing short of a torture.

There were such instances at the airports that the passengers with a beard or long trousers as the Muslims wear, was not allowed to travel and offloaded for fear of sabotage or due to the concern expressed by fellow passengers. The fundamental rights, the trust in citizens and civil liberties are not taken seriously and their infringement at the airports is now a common practice.

While the TSA (Transport Security Administration) is responsible for baggage and body search of the passengers, the immigration staff checks the traveling documents one of which is the passport with visas if required.

“The TSA created in response to the September 11, 2001 attacks, is charged with developing policies to protect U.S. transportation, especially in airport security and the prevention of aircraft hijacking.”

Its budget for fiscal year 2011 was around $8.1 billion. Various security experts including Bruce Schneier accused TSA for fostering a false sense of safety via harsh measures employed at the airports.

As for body search it is an abject humiliation and utter degradation for the humans to be stripped off their shoes, jewelry items, their purses, cell phones and even excessive clothing and walk half naked through the security door that might beep even if it was the belt that he forgot to tak off.

The 9/11 has changed the social environment and the mindset and world- view of a sizeable segment of American population to an appalling extent. Now even the American citizens carrying the American passports but having different pigment or color of skin are treated as potential suspects and therefore not trusted.

Gone are the days when one could walk though the security check points with such items as water, beverages, and food items without any fear of questioning or waylaying. One could go so close to the aircraft that only a wall barrier would be left between the passengers and the aircraft. Such was the carefree, easy, liberal and free environment of air traveling only a decade ago.

The conditions for traveling and the environment at the U.S. airports are rife with immense tension and stark apprehensions not only for the travelers but also for the staff posted on security check points. The passengers would remain under the nagging fright that despite their extreme precautions, there might be anything left in his baggage that could be used to profile them as potential terrorists or suspicious characters.

The immigration officers are repositories of absolute and unfettered powers to detain, deport or confine any passenger even without cogent grounds. One’s being elderly and those with family members should be taken as enough evidence that such people cannot be mischievous and dangerous. But there are no exceptions even for this category of harmless passengers.

In case of refusal to enter, there is no option available for remedy to the genuine passengers traveling either alone or with their families members. A passenger sent to the special rooms feels himself under the lurking fear and paranoid that his segregation and special questioning could result in his expulsion or deportation from the United States or he could be arrested as a potential terrorist.

It is invariably futile for the harried passengers to reason with the immigration officers and convince them about the legitimacy of the visit to the United States. It is primarily the whims and perfunctory assessment of the entry officers to grant or refuse entry to any person, no matter how genuine and justified the documents would be.

Occasionally some officers draw out sadistic satisfaction by using their immense powers to hold or detain a person even without any solid reason. The inspectors sometimes allegedly ridicule passengers; use racial and sexual taunts.

It would be heart- gripping to witness the show of authority and occasional mocking on the part of the officer in comparison to the helpless and traumatized passengers. One may also imagine the stark anguish of those passengers who for flimsy and frivolous reasons or mere doubts are refused entry and forced to take return flights.

In many instances, the panicked, nerve-shattered, terrified and absolutely helpless passengers had to miss the next connecting flight due to the enforced waiting period for clearance or refusal of the admission to enter. Those who have gone through this agonizing waiting period only can express how one suffers from two pangs of agonies simultaneously: one the overwhelming fear of denial to enter and second to miss the next flight.

These passengers may have to attend a time sensitive extremely crucial business meeting, reach their families for bereavement or funeral rites, join a wedding ceremony, take part in a graduation ceremony or attend a course of vital import, or to be present in a court hearing. The immigration staff is usually unconcerned about the nature of the visit as their entire focus is on finding some clue to prove the man was a suspect traveler.

In his article,” U.N. Report Cites Harassment at American Airports of Asylum Seekers” published in the New York Times some time back, the writer Rachell L Swarns mentions about a confidential report conducted by the United Nations in cooperation with the Department of Homeland Security.

The report found that “airport inspectors with the power to summarily deport illegal immigrants have sometimes intimidated and handcuffed travelers fleeing persecution, discouraged some from seeking political asylum and often lacked an understanding of asylum law.”

There is a dire need to inject some modicum of sanity and rationale into the immigration procedures at the American airports. In case of a person who has been previously fingerprinted at the embassy or at the airport, the bizarre practice of taking his fingerprints again, and detained for intensive interrogation, should be stopped. His entire profile and background that is already in the system should be sufficient to verify his particulars on the spur of the moment.

The people who come to the United States carry genuine visas and get these visas on the strength of heavy and authentic documentation. So to suspect these previously traveling passengers and even the new ones under the suspicion that some of these might be trouble makers or so called terrorist is to cast doubts on the performance and ability of the concerned American embassies abroad.

The American embassies do not grant visas in the air. They do so after absolute satisfaction and procurement of voluminous documentation and thoroughly and comprehensively checking the background of the visa seekers.

Due to these stringent and rigorous immigration rules enforced after 9/11 incident, the quantum of visitors coming to the United States reportedly, has considerably dwindled. Also the enrolment of foreign students in American educational institutions has drastically decreased causing immense economic loss to them.

1 comment:

  1. Thats right it is quite hard because if you fail from this your next time will be harder . And it will spent up your money but its worth once you passed it . And the US Immigration Services can help you to have your visa .