Adventures in Bureaucracy
Wednesday, October 30, 2002
It’s hard to watch the scenes of the Haitian migrants coming ashore in Miami without feeling something. You could practically see the hope in their eyes, thinking, “We’ve made it!” as they made their way through the surf to the land where they could make their dreams come true.

The debate on immigration is shaped by scenes like these, and this was the most dramatic one since the “Golden Venture” arrived in New York harbor. It’s one thing to discuss policies and regulations, but quite another to see the humanity behind the issue. America, a country proud of its migrant roots, a country that has always welcomed those in search of a better life, will probably expel the bulk of the Haitians on the boat. Is this justice?

In a word, yes. Emotion often blurs a lot of the distinctions in immigration cases, but the fact is that all of the people on that boat came illegally. Even though it is difficult to immigrate to the United States, the laws of this country are probably the most generous in the world when it comes to immigration. Most legal immigrants obtain their visas by family ties, and the law allows for the spouses, children, parents and even siblings of American citizens to immigrate. A much smaller number comes through employment, but a lottery can bring in even more people. U.S. law is more generous than most other countries in who is legally allowed to immigrate, and the United States accepts a huge number of legal immigrants - nearly 850,000 in FY 2000. All of them can eventually become citizens, and many of them do.

The biggest problem is that there are numerical limits on the number of people who are not the spouses, minor children or parents of U.S. citizens who can enter in any given year, so there are long waiting lists for some of the categories. However, the law also has provisions to protect people who face persecution in their own countries, and immigration courts have taken a fairly liberal interpretation of what counts under asylum provisions.

My guess is that most of the Haitians the boat will ask for asylum, but few will get it. Most of the people on board came for a better life, because Haiti does not offer them much opportunity or hope, but it does not threaten most of them with political persecution.

The same thing happens day in and day out in the rest of the United States, but seldom on so grand a scale. The migrants essentially bypass the system and hope that once they are physically inside U.S. territory, they will be able to stay. Sometimes it works.

This naturally makes those who endured the indignities of going the legal route angry. Many of them had to wait years before their visas came through, then they see others circumventing the system and getting rewarded for it.

Australia has had similar situations with boatloads of migrants coming in from Indonesia, and the Australian response has been to detain the migrants while verifying their identities and verifying their stories. This has provoked a long, loud and continuing debate, but most Australians seem to think that it’s not too much to ask of prospective guests in their country to follow the rules.

What will happen in the United States? An open national discussion of what we want from our immigration policy like the one that has taken place in Australia would be a good thing. Chances are this incident will be forgotten within a week.
Sunday, October 27, 2002
Evidence that the Saudis really value our friendship.
Looks like the INA list on the INS site doesn't have the link to 212, but this looks like a decent run-down.

INS... "It's Never Simple."
This looks like another INS screw-up (via Instapundit) but is actually fairly typical of how things went when I worked at my old airport. The intricacies of immigration law make the tax code look clear and straightforward, and there are many different avenues that can be pursued according to what’s on the books. In practice, however, the options are a lot narrower.

The whole point behind having inspectors at airports and along the frontier is to identify people who are not legally allowed into the country. Section 212 of the Immigration and Nationality Act spells out all the reasons that can legally bar someone from entering the United States. The main one that seems to apply here for the three people accompanying Muhammad when he came to Miami is 212(a)(6)(C), which excludes anyone attempting to enter by means of fraud – and at the big ports like Miami, there are several similar cases every day.

Section 212 spells out in great detail who can be denied entry, but none of its provisions apply to citizens of the United States. No matter how awful the person, no matter how many laws he has violated, a U.S. citizen can never be barred from entering the country.

This is not to say that the INS cannot take actions against a citizen who has violated the law, but it does point out the two levels of jurisdiction at ports of entry. Violations of the Immigration and Nationality Act can be pursued in criminal court, and from the article, it looks like the Miami inspectors tried to develop a case against Muhammad for smuggling the three people into the country. The problem with this, at least when I worked Inspections, was that the evidenciary standard to get the case accepted by the U.S. Attorney’s Office was high, since the government had to be able to prove that Muhammad was getting some sort of material gain by assisting in the illegal entry of the three women. The other problem was that immigration cases usually rated low on the AUSA’s priority list, so in general they would only accept the slam-dunk cases that would look good for their stats without an inordinate amount of time spent on them.

Unfortunately, it looks like they didn’t have enough evidence to make the case look strong enough for acceptance. This meant that the case was apparently pursued under administrative proceedings. The vast majority of all port intercepts are handled administratively, through Visa Waiver refusals, expedited removals or other means. Administrative law was enough to deny entry to the three women, but it let the U.S. citizen off the hook.
I've been linked to Instapundit?!? I'm not worthy! I'm not worthy!

OK, that may sound like false modesty now, but check back in a few weeks and you'll see how true it really is.
Saturday, October 26, 2002
The Washington area at long last went into a weekend without the anxiety of the sniper, and it seems that everyone went out to enjoy a beautiful fall day. Adults went jogging or raked the yard. Children jumped in the leaves or played soccer. Tourists returned to see the sights. And loads of demonstrators came out to protest the war.

I had just planned to go for a walk in the city to enjoy the weather, but soon I started encountering people with signs. Some of the bearers were about what you’d expect. Naturally there were the John Lennon look-alikes (not Lennon from the early mop-top days, but the scraggly, unkempt one from the days after the Beatles had found acid and he’d found Yoko) with their tie-dyes and Birkenstocks. There was a sizeable contingent of older people who would fit in at any PTA meeting in the suburbs. It looked like a mixed crowd, and they turned out in numbers big enough to cause a big snarl in downtown traffic.

The most common printed sign featured a sad-eyed young girl and declared “STOP THE WAR AGAINST IRAQ!” Because apparently when the United States goes to war, we target the children, just like in Afghanistan. She’s probably better off under Saddam anyway. Some of the other printed signs proclaimed that “PEACE IS PATRIOTIC”, and some even had printed pictures of Wellstone. I luckily managed to miss the distribution points for these, so no souvenirs of the day for me.

The people with hand-made signs at least took the time to get personally involved in the whole affair. My personal favorite was the one that read “FIGHTING FOR PEACE IS LIKE F**KING FOR VIRGINITY!” I’m not really sure what that one meant. After a good fight the instigator usually shuts up and doesn’t want any more.

Then there was the Maureen Dowd reader with a busy sign, something about a police state and repudiating the “boy emperor”. As someone whose job will probably be subsumed into the Department of Homeland Security whenever that comes into existence, I felt a strong urge to arrest the sign-bearer on the spot and have her deported to the gulags in North Dakota where we send all the dissidents. Oh, wait, THERE AREN’T ANY. So much for the police state. I’ll let you know when they issue us jackboots at the office.

“NO MORE WEAPONS OF MASS DISTRACTION.” Cute. Probably cuter when it was being carried in the demonstration instead of being left as litter in the Farragut West Metro station. Another bit of litter urged “NO TO WAR” as well as “END RACISM NOW!” That one covered the bases. It was abandoned in front of one of the Smithsonian museums. In fact, I saw a number of discarded signs and placards. Where are the Greens when you need them?

Some of the marchers actually had recommendations instead of just slogans. Several people urged regime change in the United States by voting. Fair enough. After all, we can do that in this country. Despite the best efforts of the principled anti-war movement, the issue came up for a vote in Congress, so at least the demonstrators today know where the incumbent in their district stands on the issue.

“INSPECTIONS NOT INVASION!” trumpeted another. I seem to recall that we are actually trying that route, but for some odd reason, we’re not getting too much cooperation.

Another one advised “NO WAR AGAINST IRAQ!” and “END SANCTIONS NOW!” Unfortunately I did not see whether the other side had a picture of an ostrich with its head in the sand.
Thursday, October 24, 2002
Why is everyone making such a big deal out of the rash of celebrities who are voicing their political views? They are entitled to their opinions just like anyone else, although our obsession with fame ensures that the world will know what the famous think. It's kind of refreshing, actually, since most celebrities are just familiar faces or familiar voices. We don't know the stars themselves, so learning their thoughts on the issues of the days can get us a little closer to the rarefied air of Hollywood. Besides, a good argument should stand on its own, no matter who makes it. Those who disagree with a celebrity's ideas should debate the ideas and not make ad hominem attacks. Ever. It's better to hear them out and weigh the merits without regard to who said what. Besides, at the end of the day, do their political opinions make us love them any less?
Wednesday, October 23, 2002
I think one of the main problems with the world today is that too many people have lost all sense of proportion. Case in point: this one hit me in the face when I switched on the computer today. "Cultural prostitution"? What's so debasing about weaving a rug? It's fascinating how someone can make a thing of beauty from some excess bits of sheep, and just because the woman invites people to watch her at work doesn't make it demeaning. The author's five dollars actually helped contribute to preserving the artistic heritage of the Navajo by allowing the weaver to keep doing that.

I've seen a few places outside the United States, and I can understand the "I can only ever be a voyeur into a world not mine if I don't choose to live in it for longer than a few hours (years would be best)" attitude. But if you can't learn something about a different way of life without feeling like some pervert in a peep show, why bother to leave home?
The criticism of these things is that any idiot can write a blog... and that makes me qualified for the position. A short introduction: I am one of the bureaucratic hordes infesting the banks of the Potomac, and have been for longer than I care to remember. I started my career long, long ago as an Immigration Inspector at a large airport in the northeast. Thankfully I escaped that job and moved through a few others, so that I am now a highly trained professional (I can write memos entirely in the passive voice).

I decided to start writing this blog partly because I enjoy writing, and partly because I just want to be able to express some thoughts out loud in a lonely corner of the internet. Government workers are not supposed to express anything political or partisan, but every now and then I look at things that are happening in the world and just want to be able to say something. So here goes....
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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