Adventures in Bureaucracy
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Five hundred fifty years ago today the last vestiges of Imperial Rome were finally swept away when the Ottomans took the city of Constantinople. Sic transit gloria.

Uh oh, looks like someone's bored and missing the limelight.
Saturday, May 24, 2003
One of the certainties of working as an immigration inspector is the knowledge that you are always wrong. Always. We read it in newspapers and saw it on television all the time. We were letting in far too many people and should have turned more of them back at the border. Well, until the critic in question identified with someone who was denied entry, in which case we were capricious jackbooted thugs out to ruin someone’s life.

And so it goes with another case. Here it looks like two groups of French journalists were refused entry at Los Angeles airport and returned to France. From the border control standpoint, everyone who wants to enter the United States has to demonstrate that he is admissible in one of several defined classes of non-immigrants and to have the correct visa if one is required. The Visa Waiver Program exempts people from some countries (economically developed ones) from the requirement to have a B1 or B2 visa – basically for business trips and holidays. There is another category, the I visa, for representatives of foreign media. Reporters working for foreign media organizations need this one for entry, and the ones who flew to Los Angeles apparently didn’t have it, so they were turned back.

Similar cases happen at U.S. airports, border crossings and seaports every day, but this one involved journalists, so of course it’s different, and probably more important, at least to other reporters. Turning away an Italian citizen coming to work at a restaurant or a Japanese citizen coming to begin school because they are using the Visa Waiver Program as a short-cut to get around visa requirements is no problem, but turning away a journalist for the same thing? That’s news.

The opinion pieces I’ve read seem to begin from the assumption that journalism is one of the holy professions, and that mere bureaucrats are wrong to hinder the seekers of truth. It looks like the story originated as a press release from an organization called “Reporters Without Borders” which was picked up by Drudge. Just the name gives you an idea of their perspective. The name played off of “Doctors Without Borders”, a humanitarian organization that has sent medical workers to help the poor in some of the nastiest parts of the world. Journalism, while not as important in the grand scheme of things, is still an important profession, and reporters have worked at great personal risk against those trying to keep bad things concealed. Unfortunately, this often seems to translate into an idea that journalists are somehow better than other mortals and should be exempt from some of the rules governing the lives of the rabble. That leaves an especially bad taste these days, with the many well-publicized cases of the bringers of truth twisting their stories in service of an agenda, or just making them up as they go along.

Which brings me back to the “Reporters Without Borders” press release, decrying the “arbitrary if not discriminatory” acts of the border officers. Actually, the release seems to show standard procedure. Inspectors are there to screen out those who are not in compliance with immigration law. That goes for the big things like identifying false passports and visas and for the smaller things like screening out people with expired visas. This one, with people using the Visa Waiver Program when they are supposed to have another visa category, falls on the lower end of the scale. This generally requires an interview to ascertain the exact details of why a person is coming to the country, taken under oath and transcribed to a statement, so that the reviewing officers can see which laws and regulations apply.

People who try to come in on the VWP without the proper visa are not admissible under the VWP. It’s easy on the land border – the person is sent back across and told to go to the nearest U.S. consulate and obtain the necessary visa. At airports it’s more traumatic, but the same thing applies – they have to go back where they came from and get the required visa before they can be admitted. This means that the person goes back on the same flight they took to the United States.

I don’t know about the flight schedules into Los Angeles, but flights from Europe to the East Coast arrive in early afternoon and depart in late afternoon. If a passenger misses the outbound flight, which happened for those arriving on flights with a quick turnaround time, he has to wait until the next day for the next outbound flight. This means detention, as the experience has been that people let go on their own recognizance and told to show up for the departing flight – and here’s a surprise – often didn’t. And detention means all those unpleasant things like searches, fingerprints and the like, all in the interest of making sure that the person detained doesn’t have anything that will harm others or himself.

Then the trip home. The standard procedure is to have the airline present the travel documents to the immigration authorities in the next country, since a denial of entry to the United States could have some affect on whether the person is let back into the next. As the passengers here were French, but had originated in and were being repatriated to a third country, it was up to Dutch Immigration to figure out whether they were allowed into Holland or whether they would have been repatriated to France. For a technical infraction like this one, there’s generally no problem, especially for nationals of the Schengen Zone countries – but those denied entry to the United States for fraudulent identity documents are usually of more concern.

Matt Welch and Glenn Reynolds express the fear that this relatively minor offense could keep the journalists out of the United States forever. My guess is, probably not. Anyone who violates the conditions of an entry under the Visa Waiver Program is statutorily ineligible to come in on it again. That includes overstays, so the press officer’s comments about a one-day overstay cited in the Welch article are probably correct. However, that is NOT the same thing as a permanent ban on entering the country; it just means that the person will need to obtain the appropriate visa from a U.S. consulate before coming back. When I worked at the airport, I saw people denied entry under the VWP back within the week with new visas, so I don’t think the French journalists will have any problems coming back with the proper I visas. Their employers should have obtained them in the first place instead of trying to short-cut the system.

But they must still be admissible in all other respects, otherwise they are ineligible for any type of visas. I don’t know the specifics of the Los Angeles cases, so I don’t know how the consular officers will decide the applications when they get them. I did read with interest the following from a “Newsweek” reporter in the Welch article: "Honestly, I faked such letters on a number of occasions when I needed such a visa or other accreditation…I also lied numerous times, pretending to be a businessman or a tourist to gain entry into a country that had onerous media visa requirements. It's just a part of the job, dealing with corrupt and onerous governments that want to hinder or keep tabs on the foreign press." Another ringing endorsement of journalistic ethics, to be sure, but this seems to indicate the laws that apply to other people don’t necessarily apply to reporters, who are apparently free to decide what’s onerous and what’s not. Welch puts the quotes around “defrauded”, but anyone who presents faked documents to establish eligibility for a visa is inadmissible for fraud under section 212(a)(6)(C)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, and that’s pretty much a lifetime ban.

Glenn Reynolds calls the whole situation a joke, but if so, it’s like one of those “New Yorker” cartoons where I don’t quite get the punchline. What’s the joke exactly? What should the inspectors have done differenty? Are border control officers supposed to enforce all the immigration laws, or just ignore infractions when the ones when the people in question are sympathetic? There’s a word for when immigration officers ignore someone without the legally required entry documents: nonfeasance. Or perhaps dereliction of duty.

Reynolds and Welch both seem to be put out by the fact that officers are now enforcing the laws. Why is this a bad thing? Remember the articles about how Mohammed Atta was stopped in Miami with a tourist visa even though he was studying, and he was admitted to the country anyway? Sure, French journalists are not Egyptian terrorists, but the laws are written the same way for everyone. We don’t have one set for People Like Us vs. People Like Them. And if more consistent enforcement of immigration laws takes place under the Department of Homeland Security than it did under INS, I hardly think that counts as “overreach”. There were too many winks and nods in the enforcement of immigration law, and when I worked at the airport, it was like a sports fishing tournament - catch and release. Now instread of being arbitrary or capricious, it looks like there is more consistent enforcement at the borders, and that's not a bad thing. It’s what inspectors were hired to do in the first place.

(And just to be completely clear on this, all viewpoints expressed at this site are mine and are in no way representative of the official views of the Department of Homeland Security.)
Friday, May 23, 2003
You know, I was just wondering whether any celebrities had been affected by all this recent terrorism stuff, and CNN comes along with the answer. Now it's all real to me.

"Important American." Sheesh.
Wednesday, May 21, 2003
Professor Bunyip presents a summary of silly left-wing arguments in favor of state support for better internet access:

"So, just to recap, here are the main points from this lesson in the psychology of the left and its light-fingered presumptions:
1/ Bureaucrats should always be trusted, even when history has proven them incompetent and short sighted.
2/ If a policy isn't producing satisfactory results, throw a lot more of other people's money at it.
3/ When arguing for (1) and (2), present desires borne of self-interest as "rights" -- and then impugn the moral fitness of anyone who would rather not underwrite them,
and, if you are an academic, make your case a two-for-one bet by
4/ Claiming that whatever is good for you personally will also be a boon for "education." The left is always working to help our children, don't forget -- even if that means taking money away from their parents."

Obviously only the first point is true.
When did airlines stop serving food? They used to serve at least a snack during mealtimes, but not Delta. I flew out and back though Atlanta on segments longer than 90 minutes. For breakfast, they served a cookie. One. For dinner, a bag of pretzels. Ten of them. Note to Delta: showing an in-flight video from Food TV just reminds me of the food you used to serve on your flights, back before you gave your planes that stupid paint job.
"Australia has been approached to provide bases for US forces and combat and reconnaissance aircraft as part of a bold plan to bolster the war on terror in southeast Asia."

Tim Blair says the shrieking over this will deafen millions. I'm more concerned about whether the local support structure is up to the task.
No, no, no. I usually enjoy USS Clueless, but this is crossing a line:

"If there's anything more unscrupulous and rapacious than a network executive on a quest for ratings, it's a government bureaucrat looking for things to tax."

That is completely unfair. The ones looking for things to tax are the politicians and their staff members who are trying to get programs into place without leaving themselves open for charges of deepening the deficit. The worst we bureaucrats do is think up user fees to fund some of the mandates that come from Congress. Hardly unscrupulous, and only a little rapacious.

Politicians come and go, but bureaucrats are forever. Ask any federal manager who has ever tried to fire one.
Sunday, May 11, 2003
The Klingon story was a joke. See, there really aren't that many people who go bonkers after repeated viewings of "Star Trek".
And now back to the real world, where NGOs are making a difference. Kind of. (via LGF)
Uh oh, a contest. Now that the idea's in my head, I may have to do something with it.
Speaking of fictional languages, Elvish seems to attract a better class of people. Probably because it takes the hard-core linguistic masochists to study anything based on Finnish grammar.
Hmm... if the precedent is set that Klingon is in fact a real government-approved language, would I get paid more at work if I learned it? It's got to be easier to learn than Arabic (I doubt Klingon has fourteen forms for the present tense of a verb), and Klingon language skills probably wouldn't earn me a detail to some benighted area of the world.
And speaking of the pernicious influence of television... The longer I think about this, the more pissed off I get. Now it doesn't surprise me that some "Star Trek" fans would go off the deep end - any large group of people is going to have its share of nutters, after all - but I can't believe that there is such a huge numbers of psychotics out there who refuse to use anything but a made-up language.

OK, I can see where that's a legitimate argument for having someone on call for $15 an hour, as needed (I'd imagine that the calls to that interpreter would be few and far between). But this: "'We have to provide information in all the languages our clients speak,' said Jerry Jelusich, a procurement specialist for the county Department of Human Services, which serves about 60,000 mental health clients." If this means that they are seriously considering shelling out tax dollars to have forms, pamphlets and brochures translated into KLINGON, Multnomah County taxpayers should do some serious screeching. That can't come cheap, and the rationale that some people "consider it a complete language" sounds like an excuse for the county to help people live in a fantasy world. Show me one native speaker who doesn't speak English and maybe I'll reconsider my thoughts on whether the county should fund Klingon interpreters... but the mental services people might be too busy with the parents to have time to dig up the Klingon brochure for the kid. (via Instapundit)

Saturday, May 10, 2003
Crap. I had two options for today, depending on the weather - either go out and about and generally enjoy the day, or bring some sort of order to my apartment. When I woke up to the sounds of thunder and rain against my window, I knew what I had to do.

And of course the best way to clean my apartment was to decamp from bed to couch and think about how best to go about the task while scanning TV channels. I did this until I re-discovered why I don't watch much television any more. Stuff like that and the networks wonder why they're losing their audience. It's almost enough to make you switch to PBS. Almost. But there's an even chance that I'll end up watching it anyway. I was always rather partial to Joyce Dewitt. Priscilla Barnes was probably my favorite blonde on the show, and Jennilee Harrison was no slouch either. But searching for her with Google leads to an inactive personal web site and more internet strangeness.
Thursday, May 08, 2003
At age five: "Look at me! Lookit! Lookit! Lookit! LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT MEEEEE!!!"

At age forty-five: "Here in France I feel at home."

The spotlight's moved on. Although this criticism may be a tad too harsh. "Old slapper" seems to fit though.
Wednesday, May 07, 2003
I know a backhanded critique of the blogosphere when I see one.
Monday, May 05, 2003
I guess I know what we'll be talking about in the office today. First thing to do in case of attack: round up Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins.
An interesting article in the Post on Indian politics, although I think it comes across as a bit too glib on the Hindu stuff. Hindutva is important, but the whole cow urine thing looks like a device to make the politician seem ridiculous.

Or maybe the author is one of those who believes any expression of religion in public life is inherently bad and it's unconsciously seeped into the piece. We see that enough here in the United States - any mention of God by a public figure and you get the predictable screaming from the sidelines.
Oops, looks like the "see-through" fashions in Japan were just a hoax. Still, there's plenty of evidence to support the bizarre dress sense point. I've been to Hawaii and seen it myself.
What's happening to the Land of the Rising Sun? Cartoons that rot the brain at best and induce seizures at worst, bizarre dress sense, and the odd nutter... and I won't even go into this (appropriately via Feces Flinging Monkey). It wasn't so long ago that they were going to buy up the entire world.
Sunday, May 04, 2003
I'll bet they wouldn't have had any problems with this at Virgin Atlantic. (via Tim Blair)
Saturday, May 03, 2003
Oh my.
Another story to inspire confidence in the United Nations. Seriously, though, it's understandable, since it's such a challenge to find good food in New York.
Friday, May 02, 2003
It's been a particularly busy time at the office. The advent of the Department of Homeland Security (motto: just because you're paranoid doesn't mean you don't have enemies) hasn't brought any big changes yet. OK, there have been a few people who parachuted in after their positions higher up on the food chain evaporated (it's good to be a peon these days!), but other than that, my office is doing what it's always done. In fact, we've been busier than ever, and the new projects are stacking up like planes over LaGuardia during a summer thunderstorm. I'm close to completing one of the big ones, but there's another potentially bigger one on the horizon. So perhaps this wasn't the best time to take a few days off, but I did, and it was good.

But this might explain a strange dream I had last night. The scene: the "Wheel of Fortune" set, although the contestants had to answer a question before guessing a letter. Anyway, the first contestant, a fat guy with over-gelled hair who looked not unlike a fatter version of my sister's loser ex-boyfriend, got a question about one of the projects I've got going at the office. He answered it correctly and started some obnoxious arm-pumping self-congratulation, but he lost his balance and fell backwards, hitting his head on the set. He got back up, dazed. The audience then turned on him, yelling at him and throwing things as he confusedly walked offstage. One of the news anchors from a TV station in my parents' home town was just leaving, but she looked confused too, as she was the one who had to cheer people up when the audience turned on them. She was trying to decide whether to stay and help the guy or to continue out the door. Meanwhile, one of the other contestants was distraught about the whole situation.

Analyze THAT. I'm on my way to work.
Personal comments, opinions and observations from someone stuck inside the Capital Beltway.

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