Treated like terrorists
On January 12 2009, a new online visa waiver programme came into effect in the US. Should you wish to travel to the US, you will now have to apply electronically for travel authorisation. I won’t need to worry as I have vowed never to set foot in the United States again (lovely country that it is) and here is a sobering example, which might make us wonder what the hell is going on in the US.
Put aside the circus that is their biometrics programme (which is why I refuse to enter the country), here’s how you might be treated by US stormtroopers Customs and Border Protection officers should you be brave enough to try visiting the US. This is a real story from a real Australian family.
Picture this – you have an 84-year old father living in Los Angeles. He is ill so you and your family make a mercy dash from Sydney to the US. You have a valid visa to enter the US. You are a humble taxi driver from a leafy suburb in Sydney’s north. Your wife is an aged-care worker. You take your two sons, aged 8 and 14 years, along with you to see their grandfather, perhaps for the last time.
You get off the flight in LA. You are greeted by friendly, helpful US customs officials. Oh sorry, I was dreaming! This is what really happened:
- you are hauled aside and detained
- you are frisked and your luggage is inspected
- you are hauled off to a hotel with other “detainees”
- the van you travel in to this hotel has a cage to contain you and your family
- you arrive at the hotel at 2.30am. You try to get some sleep but it’s hard when armed guards are by your bedside
- you are woken at 4.30am, hauled back to the airport and shoved on a flight back to Sydney
- you are an Australian citizen (last time I looked, Australia was one of the US’s staunchest allies, sending our troops to support the US in Iraq. Maybe we need a rethink).
- the whole frightening incident unfolded over 24 hours
So here’s the multiple choice question. Are you:
(a) a terrorist; or
(b) a paedophile with a long criminal history; or
(c) a humble taxi driver on an emotional dash to see your ailing, elderly father.
If you answered (a) or (b) then perhaps you might expect to be questioned, frisked, grilled, hauled off by US authorities. But if you answered (c), you are correct and you must ask – why is an Australian citizen and his family (remember there are two teenagers involved here) treated in such an appalling manner?
US border protection officers accused this poor man of trying to enter the US illegally (Note to US customs and border protection – not EVERYONE in this world wants to emigrate to the US despite the fact you now have a Prez who can string a sentence together). The man showed them his return tickets worth $6400 for flights back to Australia on February 5.
During detention, the family says minimal food and drink was provided. What appalls me even more is that two teenagers had to suffer through detention in a hotel with armed guards sleeping near them. The man, Mr Fazle Rabbi, was not allowed to see his father despite emotional pleas.
Now, let’s look at the name here: Fazle Rabbi. Mr Rabbi and his family emigrated to Australia from Bangladesh four years ago. Mr Rabbi is an Australian citizen (smart move to emigrate here and not try the US Mr Rabbi!). Did US officials refuse this man and his family entry to the US because of their ethnic heritage? Was he the victim of racial profiling? I’m afraid this is the conclusion one might reach because everything else seems to have been in order: return tickets and visas.
Apparently, the official response has been that the US reserves the right to refuse entry. Hey dudes: did you refund this poor family their wasted $6400? Did you bother to ring someone – like ASIO and find out if this family were a pack of terrorists in disguise? Did you bother to find out if the elderly father had a doctor in LA you could ring to verify the story? Did you confuse the Australian passport (presumably Rabbi travelled on one) with that of Afghanistan? Did you take one moment to think you could display some compassion?
Note to the US: if you treat foreign travellers this way, one day that treatment may just be what you experience when you try to enter a foreign country.