U.S. to photograph and fingerprint 24 million a year
By Eric Ruder | January 16, 2004 | Page 2
THE DEPARTMENT of Homeland Security's Big Brother spy system has gone global. Beginning January 5, foreigners entering the U.S. at all 115 airports with international flights and 15 seaports will be fingerprinted and photographed.
When he introduced the new measures, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge had the arrogance to proclaim, "America has been and will always be a welcoming country." But for millions of people bound for the U.S., being treated like a criminal--combined with the complicated process of applying for student, travel and work visas--showed up the lie in Ridge's rhetoric.
"Though I bear a Muslim-sounding name, I'm actually a Christian," said Idris Mohammed, a computer analyst from Nigeria. "But you can visualize me visiting the U.S. and waiting with trepidation to be fingerprinted and photographed, afraid the computer may raise an alarm on finding a like name on the terror suspects' list."
The U.S. plans to print and photograph 24 million people entering the U.S. each year and then check the information against its database to determine if those entering the U.S. are on a watch list. In the process, the U.S. will compile a colossal catalog of visitors to the U.S. reminiscent of the ghastly police files collected by the former Stalinist dictatorships of Eastern Europe.
Only the targets in this case would be the citizens of all but 28 countries in the world--with exemptions going to citizens of most European countries, Japan, Australia and Canada. The program has been given a name--US-VISIT, which stands for U.S. Visitor and Immigrant Status Indicator Technology--that makes it sound like a new and improved service for tourists.
Officials claim that they expect errors in "only" 0.1 percent of cases. But that's 24,000 mistakes a year--and in reality, the number will likely be much higher. A similar watch list of U.S. citizens flying on airplanes has repeatedly singled out the same innocent travelers because they had names similar to suspects.
To highlight the outrageous new measures imposed by the U.S., Brazilian Judge Julier da Silva issued a ruling late last month requiring immigration officials to subject American travelers to Brazil to the same procedures that Brazilians face in the U.S. Incredibly, U.S. officials complained that the new Brazilian policy discriminated against Americans.
"While we acknowledge Brazil's sovereign right to determine the requirements for entry into Brazil, we regret the way in which new procedures have suddenly been put in place that single out U.S. citizens for exceptional treatment," said a statement from the U.S. embassy in Brazil. Of course, ever since the September 11, 2001, attacks, the U.S. government has singled out Arabs and Muslims entering the U.S. for all sorts of delays, humiliation and abuse.
This new program extends that discrimination to travelers from every corner of the globe--while European visitors and people from a few other exempt countries can breeze through border controls. "Perhaps America is shocked because it so long thought that discrimination is its sole prerogative," wrote G. Babu Jayakumar in India's News Today.
"It has always thought it is well within its powers to decide how to treat whom and what to thrust down the throats of other countries, lacking in economic and military might. Now that Brazil is paying back the Yanks in their own coin, they suffer indigestion and are burping...Despite being at the backyard of the world's powerful nation, whose soldiers carry no passports while entering countries where they are not even welcomed, Brazil...stood up against its imperialistic arrogance."
The Olivia Newton-John threat
AUSTRALIAN JOURNALIST Sue Smethurst had traveled to the U.S. numerous times, but nothing could have prepared her for the nightmare that awaited her when she landed in Los Angeles last November.
Smethurst was on her way to New York City and had to pass through an immigration check in LA before boarding her next flight. "Oh, you're a journalist," said the officer from Customs and Border Protection (CBP), the bureau newly created by the Department of Homeland Security to handle border crossings. "What are you here for?"
"I'm interviewing Olivia Newton-John," Smethurst replied. Smethurst didn't know it, but the moment that she confirmed she was a journalist, the CBP decided to deport her--for not applying for an I-Visa, a rule that is rarely enforced.
What followed was 14 hours of interrogations, followed by a flight back to Melbourne. At first, the questions seemed nothing more than curious--what sort of stories did she write? What kind of magazine was New Idea? Where was it published?
"I laughed, because we're a cross between Good Housekeeping and People magazine," recalls Smethurst. "The most political thing we'd likely print was Laura Bush's horoscope." But as the day wore on, Smethurst would be handcuffed, denied food for hours, fingerprinted under the heading "criminal" and given several full-body searches.
When Smethurst arrived back in Australia, camera crews from all the major Australian media were waiting to report on the ordeal. And Smethurst has since received hundreds of messages from other Australians treated similarly by U.S. officials.