Saturday, April 09, 2011

Huddled Mass

Yeah, that was me. In the Homeland Security Office at Newark International Airport. With frightening shave-headed men in blackshirt uniforms with intimidating Homeland crests on their barrel chests, using their fingers to tap on passports and saying “YOU” and never a name. NO CAMERAS! NO CELLPHONE! NO PHOTOS! Are on every pillar, every wall. I didn't see one welcome sign.

For the first time in my life I had my fingerprints taken, twice, along with a photo, twice. No explanation at all. As I sat and waited and waited in this dark and dismal place with a few other huddled masses. I finally and totally got what my clients and friends of colour go through when they cross the US border. In solidarity with them I had been avoiding going through the US for years but had no choice if I was to make Ireland from St. John's in 17 hours rather than 27. I was simply using Newark as a minor layover transition between St. John's and Dublin. No intention at all of escaping the restraints of the airport and terrorizing New York State singlehandedly. I don't even carry illegal hooch or wacky bacci.

Was I scared? Yes, I was terrified. My blood sugar plummeted and I felt close to fainting. And I was told I was “lucky” I wasn't shipped out of there and back to wherever I came from (If I were saucy I could have asked, Cork? St. John's? Toronto?In Utero?).

My crime?

I had the unmitigated gall to be a dual citizen of both Ireland and Canada.

I have many USian friends and as I write this to post later I shiver internally for what their country has become. I thought of Nazi Germany, I thought of people of colour, I speculated on what came up on the terminals in front of the three men who individually and together reviewed my papers in turn and which caused them to frown and glare sideways at me and shake their heads. Intimidation. It worked.

I remember a kinder and gentler America, we would cross and recross the border incessantly. New York, Washington, South Carolina, Pennsylvania, etc. We would be welcomed with smiles.

The only smiles I get here as I wait at the airport are from the security guards and barristas. All official personnel wear suspicion along with their uniforms.

It is a foreign land, this new America. Paranoid and fearful, for it's surely being destroyed from within. By the corporatocracy.

For doesn't a Halliburton or similar own the new Blackshirt Brigade?

The terrorists have won.


  1. I sympathise, WWW. having gone through the US visa, immigration, then later, citizenship obstacle courses I've experienced more than enough of such indignities at the hands of DHS.

    You're right though - it hasn't always been thus. I recall, back in 1984, my late partner and I travelled to Hawaii from the UK.
    Stop-overs in New York and Los Angeles, though chaotic, difficulties finding our way through the airports etc, the experiences were pleasant and friendly enough.
    Our passports were stamped with "indefinite" vacation stay visas - no questions asked.

    The audacity of change eh?!

  2. my BIL and his family live in Nebraska and i refuse to fly over to see them...i'm to scared to. maybe some day we'll drive over , but i'm not sure. Sorry you had such an unpleasant experience.

  3. I have only been States-side once. It was about eight years ago. I remember Elly telling me not to try and engage in Conversation with the American Security guys, and only answer questions in words of one syllable. We were in Dublin Airport - still on Irish soil!

  4. Oh WWW, I am so sorry. What a terrible experience. I hope you get to Ireland soon and never have to pass through the US again.
    Again, I am so sorry.

  5. That's why I'm so reluctant to go visit my daughter who lives in the States,. It's exactly as you describe. I feel like an unwelcome infiltrator when I go there. As if I am an evil person with the worst of intentions. I'm a middle aged Dutch woman, for god's sake.

  6. Must have been that beard! Seriously though, sounds horrendous.

    In what possible way do you fit the profile of a remotely dodgy or threatening individual?

    Can you claim for wrongful arrest or anything? I do hope so.

  7. Like you I have dual Irish/Canadian citizenship, but I've worked my way around the problem by having a Nexus card. We're so close to the border here that we often end up on the US side when sailing, so it was better safe than sorry. But when we went into the US Homeland office in Pearson Airport to pick up our Nexus cards, the Canadian guy who was liaising between us and Big Brother next-door told us that they now know everything about us, after conducting 11 US checks, 11 Canadian checks and an Interpol check. So much for welcoming your huddled masses!

  8. "The terrorists have won."

    Indeed they have. You aren't the first to compare us to Nazi Germany. It's become a frightening world.

  9. That is terrifying :-( What is so wrong with having dual nationality? (and I though that with the large Irish heritage in America, that an Irish passport wouldn't have done that much harm?)

    You have definitely reaffirmed my decision never to travel via the US, even for a stopover.

  10. The sad truth is, even though all of these precautions may be necessary - there are other ways to do it. More successful ways to spot a real terrorist trying to board a plane. The Homeland Security people at Newark Airport are particularly dehumanized. I know that personally, having flown from Newark several times. HS has not the slightest clue how to spot a potential threat. How can they if they never look at you? Never speak with you or engage you in conversation? Do you have to be obnoxiously rude? They're so busy with this kick ass attitude that they close themselves off from seeing anything. The best airline security is EL AL. They have little pleasant chats with everyone constantly looking at your face, asking you ordinary type questions. Their eyes never leave you. They put you at ease. When you are finished being checked through, you don't feel violated angry or pissed-off. And they are the best.
    Hello to Dublin.

  11. We try to avoid travelling to the US for the same reason, the super-strict security. But Jenny's going to Boston and Philadelphia in May so she'll be testing out the current regime. Her Visa application was really tortuous but they had no problem putting the Visa in her Irish passport (she also has a UK passport).

  12. As an American I would like to apologize for our rude behavior. Many have lost all semblance of common sense especially when it comes to "security" issues. I live in Washington state and would welcome you all with open arms should you pass this way. I am truly sorry you had this kind of treatment by "representatives" of my country.

  13. My heart is saddened by your despicable treatment in my country. It seems to have lost it's collective mind. The average citizen believes the propaganda spewed out by the "Ministry of Truth." Private security is very big business and can ignore most of the laws governing civility. I, too, have dual citizenship - USA and Ireland, but I would never let the DHS know this. I am so deeply sorry that you were victimized by these arrogant thugs. This is not the United States I grew up in and I grieve for the lost civilization.

  14. And once again, I am reminded why I made the decision several years ago to never willingly enter the USA again. I have nothing to fear from them but I refuse to be subjected to such treatment at the hands of any "foreign power". As Canadians, we are now treated no better than any foreign terrorist. The only difference of course, is that in our need, we call ourselves THEIR neighbours. And this is evolution? Thanks for sharing your experience WWW. When the time comes, I'll take the 27 hours.

  15. I had a similarly horrible experience flying back through Newark in February. The immigration guy bombarded me with questions about what I'd been doing in Canada. Wanted to know all about My Very Own Newfoundlander. You want to know his name I said in surprise - as if he was going to know him. He gruffly said SIR, IT IS MY JOB TO PROTECT THIS COUNTRY. Jeez - horrible experience.

  16. I have to say though that Canada isn't any better. Two years ago I went to Montreal for a wedding and the immigration lady spent 5 whole minutes interrogating me about the people getting married and MVON. What had I got them for a present. Where had I met MVON. What was he doing in Holland. Does he plan on changing his nationality. Really unfriendly woman. Even in St. John's I was questioned in detail about him and his family and my reasons for being there. So I've been through US immigration 4 times and only one was unpleasant - been through Canadian immigration twice and both experiences were.
    Going through both again in two weeks time - wish me luck!

  17. Hi WWW

    I've not been to the US since 2000. I agree, it is a different world since 9/11. I was always one for asking if I could go to the cockpit - unthinkable now - but I actually have photos of several cockpit trips. In Sept 2000, I flew to NYC on a plane with an all-female flying crew. I don't guess they let anyone in the cockpit now.

    I heard about the fingerprinting and I must admit it does put me off visiting the US, but for transit passengers? Wow, that's extreme.

    Hope it hasn't spoilt your trip.



  18. Is it just America that you can't stand?
    Attitude is what you make it.

  19. Brighid, I would ask that you clarify what you mean in your comment. I don't hear anyone commenting (or this blog owner) refer to "America", but to HS's training or lack of it. What do you mean by saying attitude is what you make it? Help me out here.

  20. Brighid:
    What on earth do you mean by that remark?
    I recounted my experience in the Homeland Security Office in Newark Airport.
    I have many wonderful American friends that I love.
    I never said anything about 'not standing' America.


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