Passport Power
December 18, 2015 11:18 PM   Subscribe

 
A careless reading might leave the impression that I’m advocating open access for all. Not so. With the world on fire all around us, it has perhaps never been more important to have greater control and understanding of the people who travel into and out of our homelands. But this goes exactly to the opinions expressed.

A blanket policy for entire countries, based on their passports, is backward.
...
Changes to those policies would only be the beginning. In an era of the cloud and big data, in which nearly everyone has parse-able travel, education, and financial records, blanket international travel passport policy – even with freer travel – is ineffective.


I thought I agreed with the author but I'm not sure I do. I was hoping they were advocating open access for all. But instead they seem to be advocating a global surveillance state?
posted by vacapinta at 3:47 AM on December 19, 2015 [12 favorites]


in which nearly everyone has parse-able travel, education, and financial records

In developed countries this is definitely true, but my understanding was that globally it is not, with a large percentage of people lacking extensive connections to the formal banking sector along with the other forms of overlap with the surveillance state.
posted by Dip Flash at 4:08 AM on December 19, 2015


He even got a “welcome home, sir,” from a customs and border protection officer.

Interestingly, this echoes a pivotal moment in Zia Haider Rahman's brilliant novel In The Light of What We Know:

Emily is the Englishness that Zafar cannot possess. Just as Emily has never said “Sorry,” so England has never said “Welcome.” “If an immigration officer at Heathrow had ever said ‘Welcome home’ to me,” Zafar says, “I would have given my life for England, for my country, there and then. I could kill for an England like that.”
posted by chavenet at 4:30 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Vacapinta, I was 2/3 of the way through, enjoying the article, when I linked to it. On completion I do wonder who really wrote it and why.
posted by infini at 4:38 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


But instead they seem to be advocating a global surveillance state?

I'm far from sure I understand this correctly, but I think the author simply wants checks and restrictions to be applied only to bad people, and hasn't thought much further than that.
posted by Segundus at 5:19 AM on December 19, 2015 [4 favorites]


When I travel for work, it's on a red {official) US passport. It's certainly a different experience than using a personal passport, but it's hard to quantify. I do like using diplomatic/ official lines. Since I'm with USDA it also tends to make Customs easier.
posted by wintermind at 5:40 AM on December 19, 2015


I've had that moment of "Welcome home" coming into the USA. It really bothered me. It made so many assumptions about me; my relationship to the country of my birth, where my home is, why I'm coming there in the first place. It's American exceptionalism. I hope to have a second passport by the end of next year. I could have / should have done another during my time in Europe. All developed countries, and yes, privileged. I've been stupidly lucky.

Still, I'm sitting here trying not to scream at the absurdity of these systems. My SiL was born in Iran. Her Mom's American, Dad's Iranian. Her Mom's immediate heritage would allow her to claim an Israeli passport. Iran's rules claim her as Iranian. She's naturalised to a fourth country where my nieces were born. It's possible her access to VWP travel will be curtailed because of something completely outside of her control. I can't find any quick links, but it's possible her travel to the USA could also be restricted.

It's an understatement to say I've known too many incredibly smart, kind, valuable people that have been caught up in these processes simply because of parentage and place of birth. I wonder sometimes why Africa hasn't grown more, lifted it peoples, asserted its collective power. This might be one of the reasons.
posted by michswiss at 5:47 AM on December 19, 2015 [2 favorites]


Be careful what you wish for. Sometimes what your passport says about you is not very much.

The last time I entered the country by air -- and the time I decided I'd had enough international travel and it would be the last time -- I was detained for about two hours in Houston. Now I'd gotten the treatment in Houston before; when I was traveling 2-3 times a year it seemed I got it about once a year. This time I was taken to a different room though, with about six other people. When the agent came to clear us he opened by saying "You are all here because you have very common names."

Now check this. Houston built a special clearance center for people with common names. I carry a US passport with the RF chip, a US driver's license, and a TWIC card which means I can go places in the airport the customs guys can't go. All of these documents have my picture and are electronically readable and searchable. And yet, because some genius at Homeland Security thought (last name, first name) was an appropriate index record for a database, every year (presumably when they clear the special override flags) I get the rigamarole again.

The Houston guys were almost comically apologetic about the situation (as well as zealously insistent that the two of us who were US citizens were getting the privilege of being cleared first and fastest). Then again, when I almost missed my flight out of Montreal it was the Canadians who held the plane and had a tram waiting for me when the whetevs US customs guys finally gave me back my spiffy blue passport.

Sure it's unfair that treatment by country is so arbitrary, but beware that flattening the field might not mean extending US privilege to everyone so much as making everyone go through the crap the poor Algerians have to deal with. I suspect this difference of prospect is why the article starts out sounding like advocacy but ends to some ears sounding like a call to extend the surveillence state. The latter outcome is quite likely.
posted by Bringer Tom at 6:02 AM on December 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I've had that moment of "Welcome home" coming into the USA. It really bothered me. It made so many assumptions about me; my relationship to the country of my birth, where my home is, why I'm coming there in the first place. It's American exceptionalism.

I don't think it's an unreasonable assumption (assumption=OK, it's not always true, but on the balance of it it's going to a good bet) to say that someone who holds a US passport, and is thus a US citizen, views the US as some sort of home.

I'm a first-generation American (parents born abroad), of non-white/non-European descent, and I guess I just don't see this greeting in the same light. There is a not insignificant number of places I have been in the world where people just don't believe that someone of Asian background and facial features could "really" be an American. I'm damn happy when I come back to the US and people take me at face value and welcome me home as an American based on nothing more than my passport. Asian-Americans already have enough trouble being "perpetual foreigners" as it is.

I know that maybe I'm coming across as a rah rah red-blooded American who is blindsided by the problems of this country -- I'm really not. I think our policies on gun control and national health care are completely insane and our attitude toward Syrian refugees cowardly, to say the least. It's just that as someone with a US passport, I'm not going to be upset if someone assumes the US is home when for so long for someone who looked like me it was never going to be one.
posted by andrewesque at 6:57 AM on December 19, 2015 [9 favorites]


I have never been told "welcome home" when returning to Canada, I always get grilled about where I went, what *specifically* I did, and whether or not I detoured through Mexico or the golden triangle to pick up drugs on my way back. I've always just assumed this is what North American customs is like (US customs is as rude, whereas whenever I go to Europe I breeze through with a "Hello" and not much else)

It kind of upsets me that not all people are getting a universally awful experience when traversing North American customs, regardless of where they hail from.
posted by selenized at 8:23 AM on December 19, 2015 [1 favorite]


as a Filipino growing up in a middle class family with a significant number of uncles, aunts, and cousins working the Overseas Foreign Worker hustle, learning how to work and negotiate your way through border crossings was, like, a regular topic of conversation at family dinners. Is it better to take a contract in Saudi where your admission may be more straightforward but you have to turn over more of your earnings to an agency, or go to Hong Kong where pay may also be shitty but at least it's easy to visit the Philippines over weekends, or try for the US because so-and-so knows someone who can get you a multiple-entry visa and that really cuts down on the headache of going back and forth? etc.

Things that I remember from listening to the adults as an 8 year old.

* it's always easier to make a land crossing than fly in, especially if you're coming from a country with good relations with your destination. If you have to fly, aim for less popular airports. Understand where the destination's anxieties are pointed and aim to cross where their B-team border guards tend to get posted.

* whenever you leave a foreign country, always be ready in your mind to be told that you can't go back there again.

* the Filipino passport is a liability. The soonest you can get a Canadian, Australian, European or US passport, then the better.

We were never taught that this was unfair. This is just way things are. Geopolitics is not a democratic institution. We can't change the rules, so we just play the game as best we can based on the rules as we understand them.
posted by bl1nk at 9:38 AM on December 19, 2015 [15 favorites]


I have an expired US passport. I used it once, ten years ago. I guess that says I never leave my cave?
posted by Thorzdad at 11:46 AM on December 19, 2015


There is a not insignificant number of places I have been in the world where people just don't believe that someone of Asian background and facial features could "really" be an American. I'm damn happy when I come back to the US and people take me at face value and welcome me home as an American based on nothing more than my passport. Asian-Americans already have enough trouble being "perpetual foreigners" as it is.


Cannot favorite this enough, andrewesque!

This is exactly how I feel, as another Chinese-American (ABC if you're keeping score at home). Flying back into the US from Europe (where everyone said Konichiwa! to me), driving back from Tijuana, and the time we returned from Niagara Falls...it feels wonderful!

Literally the only time I feel immediately embraced as a fellow American by a white stranger because of my blue passport. Sure, they've engaged me in conversation to check out my American accent, etc.

Though I'm pretty sure that if American border control asked my parents, "Who's the leader of the pack that's made for you and me?" like they'd asked me at the Canadian-American border, the parents would have been sent to Gitmo. (joke)
posted by honey badger at 12:05 PM on December 19, 2015


"Who's the leader of the pack that's made for you and me?"

Mickey Mouse you god damned terrorist.

/s
posted by Talez at 12:13 PM on December 19, 2015


"Welcome home" is a shade officious to me, with a delicate tinge of xenophobia (you must be glad to get away from all those foreigners).

Just check my passport, junior official, don't cast yourself as my mother or the Voice of the Nation.
posted by Segundus at 3:06 PM on December 19, 2015 [3 favorites]


I like getting the 'Welcome home' bit. I expect this is coloured by the time I didn't get it because they were 'concerned as to the integrity' of my passport and bundled me off to a little room and it felt like I wasn't going to be allowed in to the country of my birth, after an absence of several years.
posted by pompomtom at 3:25 PM on December 19, 2015


We were never taught that this was unfair. This is just way things are. Geopolitics is not a democratic institution. We can't change the rules, so we just play the game as best we can based on the rules as we understand them.

This makes sense to me. Kind of a Stoic outlook. As an immigrant, I've encountered my share of arbitrary rules and annoying bureaucracy (and my experience is probably better than many). Getting frustrated is pointless.

Regarding the "welcome home" thing: I'd much rather hear "welcome home" than something less friendly. For a customs official in country "X" to say "Welcome Home" to a passport holder of country "X" seems like a pretty reasonable assumption. Even if I don't live there, I obviously have some ties there (citizenship, at minimum) so it's a home of sorts. Even if not physical.
posted by theorique at 8:18 PM on December 19, 2015


I'm a permanent resident in the US, so I get to go through the citizen line, even though I don't have a US passport. I have never had a "welcome home." I had no idea you guys were getting "welcome home"s!
posted by retrograde at 8:36 PM on December 19, 2015


I'm an expat and I get the "welcome home" every time I visit the US.

It's actually a bit contentious for expats who have made their home abroad, perhaps married, raised kids abroad. It has the implication of "Don't forget. We do not officially recognize you as anything other than a US citizen whose (tax) home is in the US."

Especially jarring is the inevitable question "How long you have been out of the country?" To US immigration, expats are just people on an especially long vacation.
posted by vacapinta at 12:45 PM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


"How long you have been out of the country?"

"Not totally sure, mate, but I have a little booklet somewhere with important travel dates stamped in it... oh, no, you've got it now."
posted by pompomtom at 9:22 PM on December 20, 2015 [3 favorites]


The only time I spoke disrespectfully to a US immigration official (He insisted my wife should have had a return ticket to show him -- that has never been asked for before or since) we got sent to the back room and came within a minute of missing our connecting flight.

So my answer is "I live abroad. I was last in the US last November."
posted by vacapinta at 1:35 AM on December 21, 2015


As a permanent resident of the US traveling on a Canadian passport, I get "randomly selected" for additional screening pretty much every time I travel. I've gotten kind of blasé about it, though it used to really freak me out because they are so very grim all the time.

I don't ever getting a "welcome home" from the Canadian customs agents I've dealt with, though they are markedly more cheerful than US customs agents. I don't know if that's because I'm Canadian, or because they are.
posted by joannemerriam at 11:12 AM on December 21, 2015


My experience with Canadian customs agents as a US citizens has not been that they are friendly. Which is fine.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:59 AM on December 23, 2015


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