29 March, 2009

It was ironic that I read the two readings from No One is Illegal (for my class on Cities in the 21st Century) on the plane back to New York last Monday morning.

Immediately upon landing I literally came across some of the challenges that Chacon and Davis talk about. Just like everyone else I got in line for visitors, and the immigration officer checked my passport, I-20, etc. But unlike most people, all my stuff was put into an orange folder and I was asked to go "register" myself in a small room at the end of the hallway.

I entered a small waiting room with broken desks, grumpy immigration officers, and a large group of hispanic and south asian people - men, women and children. It bothered me that I had been singled out based on either my nationality or my race. It seemed wrong but I understood why it had to be done: to catch potential terrorists and prevent another 9-11. I would almost have liked to see some arabs in the room, too (after all we had flown out from Dubai)!

What was not okay, however, was the inefficiency with which the officers dealt with each case. The various colored folders lay around for hours, and there was no real order in which people were interviewed. There was a hint of what Guantanamo must be like: we were not allowed to make phone calls and were asked to sit in the seats provided. The officers were suspicious and watchful. They even brought in a convict for whom there was a warrant and asked him to wait with us until they had time to process him.

In the end, after two hours of waiting, I asked to see a supervisor and quoted to him the "pledge" that was written in the main hall of the airport: a promise that the customs officers would respect visitors, smile, etc. He was actually very nice. It could have been that I told him I go to Princeton and had to get back in time for class, or the fact that I spoke any English at all, but immediately I was taken more seriously and helped out.

But the overall ambiguity of my status in that room still confuses me, and I wonder how effective this system is in protecting America from terrorists.

Photo from naamtobatao.wordpress.com.

1 comment:

Tas said...

That's unfortunate. Glad you're back though!