Saturday, May 04, 2002

Via email, I just got a request to sign this petition opposing a new INS rule allowing the INS to issue 30-day tourist visas (instead of the usual 6-month tourist visas).

Personally, I think that restricting tourist visas from foreign countries is completely reasonable during this time of crisis. Yes, I know that many people find it convenient to come to the US for six months, and, ordinarily, I think that’s great. In general, I am all for unrestricted tourism; there’s plenty of room, and, as long as visitors don’t become a public charge, I think it’s great that they come and spend money.

This isn’t, however, a time for “in general.” In February 1993, and again on September 11, 2001, it became blindingly obvious that there is a well-organized, dangerous group of people out there who are TRYING TO KILL US. All of us. Any of us. Whichever of us they can get. Letting almost everyone in on a six-month visa makes it easier for terrorists to come here, plan an attack, and carry it out.

Some would say that there is a case to be made for the complete elimination of tourist visas until the threat from foreign terrorists continues. Limiting tourist visa durations to one month is a compromise. If tourist visa durations are shortened, and enforcement procedures are improved to make visitors check in every month, then perhaps it will be harder for the next batch of terrorists to successfully organize the next terrorist attack. People who want to stay longer will probably have to check in with the INS every month. In a worst-likely-case-scenario, potential tourists will have to visit Canada or Mexico once a month. The INS will still be able to grant 6-month or longer tourist visas, if necessary. And, of course, this new 30-day rule will have no effect on student, work or business visas, or on legal immigration.

The petition organizers point out that the 30-day rule may invite retaliation from other governments. To me, that putative willingness of other governments to restrict US citizens is a feedback mechanism that will reduce the chance that the INS will apply the 30-day rule to everyone or in an unreasonable manner. The existence of such a feedback mechanism is another argument to adopt the 30-day rule.

Maybe it’ll work. Maybe it won’t. If it has a reasonable chance of preventing another terrorist attack, then it’s worth a try.

Should INS officials have the discretion to decide who gets a 1-month visa and who gets a 6-month visa? Given the abysmal record of the INS in keeping terrorists out, the answer seems to be a clear “no.” There’s just one problem: there’s nobody else to do it. So, by default, the INS gets the job.

The petition for the repeal of the 30-day rule points out that the new rule affects tourists from all over the world. The September 11 terrorists did not come to the US directly from Saudi Arabia, but from various countries in Europe. Lest someone think that there are no longer any potential terrorists in Europe, I present this picture FROM BERLIN:

Berlin Street Scene

Someone IN BERLIN dressed up the little girl as a weapon. Someone IN BERLIN thought it was a good idea to portray that child as nothing more than an expendable dynamite holder, destined to be reduced to little shreds of cooling meat after completing her terrorist mission. Allowing that person into the US for six full months is madness, even though that person is in Europe.

There are no rights, constitutional or otherwise, diminished by this new rule. Based on my review of the petition website, and a scan of some of the comments, the organizers and signatories make no argument that the 30-day rule would hinder or would not affect the war on terrorism. The tradeoff opposed by the petition organizers seems to be simply this: the US government is demanding that some non-citizens on pleasure trips get less bang for their travel buck, so that thousands of US citizens are less likely to be horribly slaughtered. I am shocked and saddened that so many people are unwilling to at least give that tradeoff a try.

Holy smokes. According to this LA Times article, the INS has cited airlines 6,000 times for not ensuring that people who entered the US with NO visa actually left the country. Seems that the INS has a lot of fronts to cover.

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