Travel to USA




John Heelan says: I wrote recently about the rapidly falling interest of UK undergraduates in the study of American topics and the rise of interest in Middle Eastern topics. This might imply the next generation of UK intelligent people have already rejected the United States under its current Administration and do not wish to appear pro-American.  The Bush Administration's paranoid actions following 9/11 are affecting not only the American homeland through the Patriot Act but also dissuading visitors to the country.

Hitherto, the US has operated a Visa Waiver Program for business, pleasure and transit visitors from selected countries, the UK being one of those. However changes are being made to that Program, in the wake of 9/11, that will prohibit certain travellers making use of the Program. For example, "Travelers with a Criminal conviction(s). Under United States visa lawm people who have been arrested are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP); they are required to apply for visas before traveling. If the arrest resulted in a conviction, the individual may require a special restricted visa in order to travel. The Rehabilitation of Offenders Act does not apply to United States visa law. Therefore, even travelers with a spent conviction are not eligible to travel visa free; they must apply for visas." [source: http://www.usembassy.org.uk/cons_web/visa/]

Please note two elements in those restrictions, arrest anywhere in the world (even though there has been no charge or conviction and the person is totally innocent) and spent convictions (even though the past miscreant has already paid his/her debt to society).  This means that even arrest for a minor infraction (e.g. drunkenness) will require the incautious youth to apply for US visas for the rest of his/her life, even though no charge has been brought.  This raise problems even for well-known people,  Euan, Tony Blair's son, will have to apply for a visa to the US for the rest of his life due to a very public arrest for alleged under-age drinking (presumably the Bush twins will not be allowed to leave the country?);  Foreign Secretary Jack Straw's son's brush with the law on drugs matters; Sir Mark Thatcher, the Iron Lady's son, having just been arrested for alleged involvement in a plot to overthrow a Central African government (which he denies) no doubt will have difficulty in re-entering the US to join his American wife.

Further, the imposition of photographing and finger-printing all visitors (formalities more intrusive than those of East Germany in the height of the Cold War (as one travel correspondent opines) and the elimination of US transit lounges not only will dissuade many tourists from visiting the US but also has resulted in transit hubs being relocated away from US soil.

The net result is that the Bush Administration's policies are making it more and more difficult for the rest of the world to visit and understand the American people in the American homeland.  The absence of such visiting, and the understanding it brings,  may well in the long run fuel resentment of the American people forcing non-Americans to the negative side of Bush's  binary "Either you are with us or against us". If so, there will be a ready answer to a future PEW survey "Why do the world hate us?", which is "You make it difficult for the world to know the true America and not just the deleterious effects of US foreign policy" Ashcroft should think again (or the American public should ensure that the Bush Administration does not continue and that Kerry repeals some of the more draconian laws.)

RH: I repeat that enrollment in programs about a certain area of the world does not imply affection for that area and vice versa. The surge in programs about the Middle East simply means that it is in the news, not that students love the place,  While I think John overstates the visa problem, the US must be careful. I attended an international conference in Mexico is which my distinguished French colleague the Hispanist Jean Sarrailh, president of the University of Paris, also took part.  When his plane stopped in New York, he was subjected to humiliating treatment because a resistance group he had belonged to during World War II had communist connections.  He never forgot or forgave. "Kerry repeals" reveals wishful thinking about the US presidential elections.

John Wonder writes:I would like to know precisely why John Heelan thinks our reaction to 9/11 was "paranoid". How would anyone feel who was grotesquely bombed? Should we say "They are really not after us; it is only our imagination?"  Christopher Jones writes: Just as John Heelan touched upon the sensitive issue of US travel restrictions, news broke that US authorities had diverted a jetliner to Bangor, Maine to intercept a dangerous Islamic terrorist armed with what can only be described as a weapon of mass destruction: an electric guitar.  Humor aside, the surreal events surrounding Cat Stevens perfectly illustrate to what extent the US authorities have gone stark raving mad.  Many years ago, Cat Stevens gave up pop music to convert to Islam and changed his name to Youssef Islam. (a positive development: I hate pop music)  As the article states, he is a frequent contributor to charity: "He sold 50m albums before renouncing music for charity and educational work after converting to Islam. He founded several Muslim schools in London and as head of the Islamia Schools Trust has met the prime minister and the Prince of Wales. He donated profits from recent album sales to the September 11 bereaved, saying that no "right-thinking" Muslim could condone the attacks."
 
However according to the Guardian article: "Mr Islam, who is best known for hits such as "Morning Has Broken", "Wild World" and "Peace Train", last visited the United States in May. His name was added to the list subsequently, and a US government source said he was refused entry because of fears that he had financially supported Hamas. He was placed on the list because of concerns about activities that could potentially be related to terrorism," said a spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security."   The article goes on to state that, "Mr Islam was denied access to Israel four years ago after claims he had donated money to Hamas, but said he had "never knowingly supported any terrorist groups - past, present or future." In other words anti-American is anti-semitic.
 
 
http://www.guardian.co.uk/print/0,3858,5022457-110878,00.html
 
 
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Ronald Hilton 2004

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last updated: September 26, 2004