Immigrants not welcome

Brussels Travel Blog

 › entry 21 of 23 › view all entries

I'm used to being treated as suspicious scum by American immigration officials, on the assumption that I either hate the country and am a threat, or I love the country and will disappear into it as an illegal alien. Finger prints, biometric photos, registering my every move with the federal police - gross violations of civil liberties are just part of the American experience. But even by those standards, today was frustratingly extreme.

I had flown into Brussels the night before from Porto, and so I only had to walk across the road from the Brussels airport to catch my flight. Should have been a piece of cake, but United Airlines set up a security post before I could even register my flight and check in my luggage. Standard stuff - what do you do in America (and I know enough to say I am a student studying diabetes, rather than some answer scary to the science illiterate), what is your address, what countries did you visit on this trip, did you pack your own bag, were you given any presents by people in Europe, what hotel did you stay in last night, what conference did you attend in Portugal, what hotel did you stay at in Porto, what was the address of the conference hall in Portugal, where are copies of your train ticket from Brussels to Luxembourg, etc etc. But then the questions became a bit more pointed:

"Why did you visit Lebanon and Syria?"


"Why did you pick Lebanon and Syria?"

"They are beautiful countries"

"All countries are beautiful, why did you pick Lebanon and Syria in particular?"

"They are particularly beautiful" (this brought a serious frown, so I had to detail the tourist attractions in Lebanon and Syria, outline my mode of travel, tell them where my tour operator was based and so forth).

"It seems like you have been to a lot of Arabic countries, why did you go to Malaysia?"

This was just too tempting, I only have so much willpower when dealing with ignorant officials: "Malaysia is not an Arabic country, Arab is an ethnicity - in Malaysia they are Malay not Arabic. I believe the term you are looking for is 'Islamic', and the reason I went there is that it is also beautiful, it is close to Australia and I wanted to see the rainforest".

It is just mindblowingly stupid to give enormous powers to invade privacy and arbitrarily detain people to officials with less training than a WallMart greeter. I have a US work visa, which means my entire background has already been approved by the FBI (twice actually). The FBI is (hopefully) actually trained to investigate, unlike this guy. Some people do just happen to like to visit different cultures and see beautiful places. This type of rubbish doesn't even make anyone safer, it just irritates people.

It took interviews by three staff members and over an hour to let me check my baggage in. Once I finally made it to the counter the lady behind the counter apologised profusely - "I am so sorry, it isn't us, the Americans are slightly paranoid about people who don't carry much luggage". All that rubbish just because I travel light.

Adrian_Liston says:
The problem is that enormous powers are given to people who's entire "security training" is watching Fox News and 24. That just can't be a good thing...
Posted on: Sep 15, 2008
shirlan says:
Security is understandable but stupidity?
Many Americans will admit that Immigration/customs for America is "anal".
Of course there is always going to be the good/friendly ones and the stern/anal ones.
Posted on: Sep 15, 2008
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