zen.org Communal Weblog

February 20, 2005

No wonder people don't want to visit America

Filed under: — brendan @ 19:41 IST

In Shannon Airport, we waited in line at US Immigration to continue our trip. There were six booths, each of which can have two INS officers working separate sides. On this occasion, there were only four INS folks working, divided between two stations. We went to the line on the right, sporting about 15 people; the line on the left was similar in length. We saw it take an average of about 5 minutes for each person to make it through. The slowdown appeared to be the requirement that every single non-US citizen (which in this case appeared to be the majority of the people) pose for a photo and offer a finger for a digital fingerprint.

Setting aside the debate about the problems in such a thing—no commitment to how long the information is held, who has access, etc—we’ll just focus on the amount of time it took for anyone to make it through immigration. We heard repeated calls for passengers to board our flight, heightening the stress as we’re convinced the airline will find a reason to take off our baggage and leave without us. It didn’t matter that we had US passports, we just had to wait like everyone else.

The two people in front of us divide up, going to each of the two INS staff. After a long wait, we saw the first immigration officer left her station with the person she’d been assisting. A few minutes later, the same thing happened with the other INS employee, leaving our side empty. About three minutes later, the second INS officer came out and told us we had to queue up on the other side. We couldn’t believe we’d just wasted all of this time, only to have to go to the other line and wait even longer. It was with great relief that we saw the first INS officer from our side materialize, and signal for us to come back. In less than one minute, she’d swiped each of our passports, given some idle chatter, and flagged us on.

While we were stuck in line, and when we got transferred to the other line, we were able to commiserate with our fellow passengers, all of whom were not US citizens and had to go through the fingerprinting exercise. Without exception, they all voiced their opinion that this did nothing at all to encourage them to want to visit the United States. Nor, they said, did it give them any confidence in the ability of the US government to treat foreign nations as anything other than second-class citizens of the world.

Sometimes this kind of crap makes you feel ashamed to be part of the land of the not-really-free.

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