Last Saturday (June 12) writer and film maker Mahin Bahrami was unable to attend the screening of her films at the iranian.com film festival in San Francisco because of harrassment by American customs officers at the U.S.-Canadian border. This is her description of what happened.
I checked in at the airline counter and from there I was directed towards the United States Immigration and Paranoia entry point where a row of bored officers, guarded by their cubicles, signaled US bound travelers to come forward for inquiry. Pulling a small luggage with one hand and clutching my passport, ticket and a copy of the National Geographic with my other hand, I stepped forward to face the Freedom Fighting Automaton (FFA).
In general, it is not recommended to exercise curiosity in the presence of an FFA, as I learnt soon after answering the questions regarding my occupation overseas. I was asked what I do in the Middle East to which I simply replied, “I write.” I was then asked about the subject. I looked at the automaton's face and the first word that came to my mind was “Paranoia”.
Curious to see how his face would contort after hearing that word I decided to make it my answer. And well, as expected, the facial contortion turned out to be quite amusing, however, from that moment on everything started going downhill. The fact that I had been to the Middle East made me an instant criminal or at least contaminated by the Middle Eastern virus and therefore I was directed into the criminals' section for further interrogation.
I opened the door with the “Customs” sign on it and was rudely ordered to stay outside until my name was called. So I did. Upon entering the interrogation room a second time I saw three officers behind their respective counters. An obese Black man, an obese Hispanic woman, and a White man from the Mid-West. I was pointed towards the Hispanic officer who slipped a form over the counter and ordered me to fill it out, outside.
Annoyed by the paranoiac border procedure, I looked at my watch and was relieved to find that I had another two hours to be “insulted” before departure time. I then found myself in the challenging position of proving disassociation with the Axis of Evil. Without choice I stepped into their dehumanization tunnel and started answering their intruding questions one by one. I was a trapped traveler forced to reveal personal information ranging from parental to educational to physical data, on paper, to be viewed by strangers.
Being a normal human I was naturally upset for the unexpected intrusion into my private life. My personal integrity would not allow me to sheepishly submit to the newly installed Big Brother screening procedure at the American customs depot. I left parts of the intrusion form blank and handed it back to the Hispanic woman. She seemed happy to please Big Brother as she dutifully began feeding its huge database more freshly caught raw human data.
While Big Brother was devouring my humanity I began looking about curiously and observed the interrogation room. I noticed an electronic finger printing device and a webcam sitting next to each of the Freedom Fighting Klingons' computer. I took the liberty to ask if what they were doing was internationally legal.
Lo and behold! As if I had insulted the Great Master of the Universe, the loyal guardians of the United States of Klingons stared at me with incredible awe mixed with anger. Demanding immediate submission and respect for Big Brother, the Mexican Klingon angrily replied: “The American Congress does not pass any laws unless it is internationally legal!”
Right, she must have just learnt the word Congress last week in order to pass the American citizenship test, I thought to myself.
I started looking about the room again and walked over to a side wall to read a large paranoiac declaration on the wall. As I was looking at the picture of the Great Master of Universe, Super Klingon himself, George W. Bush, and pictures of two other sub-Klingons on each side, I was ordered to stop exercising my human curiosity and return to the interrogation counter.
Back in the tunnel, apparently Big Brother was not happy that I had not completed the intrusion form and demanded more personal information from my past and present life.
Unable to endure the sub-human treatment I asked, “Is this how everyone is treated or is the treatment only reserved for the descendants of the Babylonian empire?” I don't think my question fit their room-temperature IQ level and so I dropped down five notches and stated: “It used to be quite easy to travel into the U.S. as a Canadian. It sure has changed since the last time I was here.”
As the Mexican Klingon continued squeezing more information out of me I began to feel nauseous. To calm myself down I took out my National Geographic magazine, laid it out on the counter and began reading it. Wondering how long the nonsense would drag on, I listened as she took it to the next level and began reciting a statement of oath. She essentially asked me to swear to a supernatural being that the personal information, unlawfully extracted from a helpless traveler and conveniently used to feed Big Brother's insatiable appetite, was pure and authentic.
The next moment I was being lectured by the Klingon from the Mid-West sitting at the next counter. I was told that I was being disrespectful to Big Brother first by entering the room in a nonchalant manner, then by walking about curiously and not paying attention when the statement of oath was read and worst of all for not raising my hand. I explained to them that as a Canadian visitor, who grew up just 30 kilometers away, I and my family have crossed this border into the U.S. numerous times in the past and we have never been interrogated in this manner before.
I said that I am merely observing and curious to know how things have changed. Finally I have never had to take an oath so I'm not familiar with the procedure. Then another Spanish speaking Klingon, who seemed to be the leader of the pack, appeared and gave me another lecture in support of the American Congress and their superiority in decision making. A few more of them entered the room, conversing in Spanish rather freely. Pretty soon I realized the place was being run by a bunch of Mexican immigrants-recently-turned-citizens.
Things had definitely changed since I had left North America some five years ago. I could imagine Chinese Americans as border patrols. I could see Black Americans as border patrols. But the irony of Mexicans guarding the borders of the United States of America was too much to handle. I had flashes of Mexicans running across the freeway near the Tiajuana border and getting shot by white American border patrols. Putting myself in their shoes now it must have felt wonderful to shoot at instead of being shot at, for once.
After another long waiting period I was ordered to take my luggage over to an inspection point and comply with the dissection procedure. As another Mexican inspector rummaged through my belongings and continued with the interrogation I started to wonder whether the three-day trip to the U.S. was worth the dehumanization process. I told the officer that I'm considering canceling my trip to California to which he replied, “Oh no. Don't do that.” Assuming that he meant the silliness was about to end and that I would be permitted entry, I complied.
In a few minutes I was told to pack up and go back to the interrogation room. By then I had missed my flight, however, I was assured that I would be able to take the next flight. The Mexican woman continued interrogating and feeding Big Brother.
After three hours of questioning, inspection, waiting and complying with their stupidity, in addition to doing my best to convince them that I was of no threat to American lives nor jobs, they conveniently and audaciously concluded that I was unfit to enter the United States of America because I may steal their jobs. This is despite knowing that I had already lived in the U.S. as a Canadian employee in California a few years ago, working for reputable American corporations and that I left behind a successful American life because I couldn't tolerate their consumerism mentality.
The purpose of my three-day visit was to visit a friend in the U.S. and I had only come back to Canada for a family reunion. I was due to go back to the Middle East within two weeks. Yet my reasoning and evidence was not satisfactory. Their irrationality and sub-human treatment of visitors made me decide never to seek entry to America until a sense of reason and humanity is brought back to that country.
For as long as Americans continue living in a state of paranoia they will only succeed in isolating themselves from the rest of the world, promoting anti-Americanism and risking collapse from within. Their paranoiac behavior will only persuade rational individuals to boycott America in every way possible and live to tell others about their awful experiences. I am not sure when sanity will return to the American psyche but I will not hold my breath till then.
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