Dresdner’s Lapthorne Turns into a Bear
Bookmarked at Del.icio.us for 2007-03-17

How to Lose Our Soft Power

Gideon Rachman hopes to enter the U.S.:

Gideon Rachman's Blog: Next week I hope to visit the US. I will put it no more strongly than that. I have learnt not to take my right to visit America for granted – ever since being ignominiously deported in 2003. When I rang my wife from Dulles airport to tell her that I was being put on the first plane home, she briefly feared that I was about to reveal a double life as an international drug-smuggler or pornographer. Nothing so interesting. I had simply forgotten to get myself a journalist’s visa.

The best stories of this sort usually involve the innocent foreigner being shackled or bundled off to the state penitentiary. Not in my case. The officials dealing with me were polite, sympathetic – but implacable. I protested feebly that I was a former Fulbright scholar who had lived in the US for several years. I had written for American journals, I knew important people, Britain was fighting alongside the US in Iraq. None of it cut any ice. As one of the immigration people explained: “We could have made an exception before 9/11, but not now.”...

As a result of my unfortunate oversight, entering the US is always a bit of a performance. I am now wearily familiar with the look of consternation that crosses the immigration officer’s face, as my name comes up on the computer. Then I get pulled over for a “secondary inspection”. Usually, after 15 minutes or so, I am on my way.

But I am far from alone in feeling uneasy when I find myself in an American immigration line. In November, a survey of more than 2,000 regular foreign travellers found that 66 per cent of them agreed with the statement: “If you make a simple mistake or say the wrong thing to US immigration or security officials, you might be detained for hours or worse.”... 39 per cent of regular travellers rate the US “worst” for immigration and entry procedures; the Middle East came second on 16 per cent. Discover America complains of a “climate of fear” and a “travel crisis”. It cites a “near 20 per cent drop in the United States share of overseas travellers since 2000” and claims that this has cost 200,000 jobs and $93bn in revenue.