18 August 2008

Don't Travel To (or Out Of) US

Earlier this month, I wrote two posts concerning US security policy. One exposed the illogic of the US restricting military exports to Canada while at the same time wanting more Canadian military involvement in US ventures.

The other post discussed the latest powers given to US border agents in defence of "homeland security." I stated then that ever since 911, the Iraq invasion, the US PATRIOT Act, Homeland Security, FEMA, etc., I've had no desire to visit south of the border and that, in fact, Daphne and I turned down an all-expenses paid invitation to present at a poverty forum in the States and opportunities to expand WISE south of the border.

Most of us have read of USians who undergo unpleasant experiences at the border when attempting to return home from trips to certain countries or regions and of US returnees whose apparent misfortune is to have non-beige skin. We'll also have read of Canadians who have been stopped at the US border and turned back.

The following two accounts perhaps highlight best how bad things have become.

Emily Feder, writing for AlterNet.org (one of my favourite US news sites), reports of her own experience at the border two weeks ago. As she writes, "I was recently stopped by Homeland Security as I was returning from a trip to Syria. What I saw in the hours that followed shocked and disturbed me." I urge people to read the full article.

Then in this Canadian news article, we learn of two Canadian women who were denied entry.

The purpose of their visit? To help as unpaid volunteers in post-Katrina rebuilding.

I am hoping the first report, by Feder, gets the attention it deserves and that US regular media picks up the story.

USians need to be made aware of what's happening at their borders, since US security policy is creating problems it is designed to prevent. Not only does it create more, not less, enemies and encourages international disdain, but the increasing difficulty of even USians to return home without having their rights and/or person molested suggests the policy is effectively converting the Land of the Free to the Land of the Imprisoned.

Regarding the second report, this provides further evidence of volunteers and social activists being unwelcome in the good 'ole U S of A. Since Daphne and I work on poverty issues, I can easily envision the two of us - both grey haired and approaching 60 - being fingerprinted, iris-scanned, frisked and detained for hours at the border, and then turned away.

As for me, there's been another change in behaviour. I automatically trash all Calls for Papers for conferences and events which take place in the US. Since there are cross-border nonprofit organizations of which I am a member, this means I've become less active than I'd been previously. I wish this weren't so, but the increasing insularity of the US forces such changes.

I wonder if international organizations based in the US have noticed the international fall-off in participation?

NB: This month, Scientific American is beginning a series on security, technology and privacy.

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