As part of my current role, I periodically have to travel overseas, pretty much exclusively to the US. Fares being what they are from Australia, it is inherently cheaper for me to fly on Around-the-world tickets than just a simple return one.
I’ve done this three times and it has done me in. Not the stress of flying, but the stress of scrutiny especially in the USA and UK (the latter which has yet to fully strip off the America-in-Europe status it had during Blair).
I arrive in Los Angeles after a practically sleepless flight due to the decision by mid-level executives to take their families on holiday en masse. (Damn you, strong Australian Dollar!) I go through the US Citizens’ Line and hand over my passport and form, which clearly states that I am coming in on business. The officer at Passport Control takes a glance at it and stamps it.
I pick up my luggage and get in the next line for customs. Next thing I know, I get an officer who clearly was transferred from Mayberry [or Woop Woop, for those unfamiliar with The Andy Griffith Show]. He proceeds to look at my Customs form as if it was written in hieroglyphics instead of BLOCK CAPITAL LETTER ENGLISH, which is what the form asks you to do. Finally loading his English-to-English translator, he seizes upon the thing that makes the logical part of his brain feel funny: I had checked Business under purpose of visit.
He asks me why.
I tell him that my business needs me to be physically present for several matters.
He then asks why did I mark down Australia as my country of residence.
“Because it is. If I live in Australia, own property in Australia, have no intention of ever leaving Australia, and have gone through the process of becoming a Permanent Resident of Australia, then I am not going to mark down the US as my country of residence.”
Considering my general antipathy-bordering-on-animosity of Americans from West of the Mississippi River, I think I was relatively restrained.
“You look a bit young to own a business,” he said with a drawl that made me think he was restraining himself from adding the word “Boy” at the end.*
* Note for non-American readers: Many Black American males, especially those who went through or had close family go through Segregation, recoil at being called “Boy,” particularly when considerably over age 18. Apart the obvious disrespect it shows, it also reminds us of those halcyon days when we were considered 3/5s of a human being. The Homeland Security officer was White and at least old enough (not to mention trained) to know about this.
I point out to him that I have inherited my late mother’s business interests and if he wanted to go check with the Coroner’s Office in Wisconsin he could verify the death certificate I pulled out to show him.
Furrowing his brow, he passed me through.
I wrote a complaint the second I arrived at my hotel.
Now, you would say that this is one incident, but I found it indicative of the current attitude one tends to receive if you don’t fit a certain profile. Business travelers apparently must not be under 35, and apparently no US citizen can ever live full-time in a country other than the US. Duly noted, Homeland Security!
Now I did adhere to the long-standing advice to dress appropriately. Believe you me, I would definitely understand Homeland Security officers being suspicious of anyone who marked down “business” as purpose of visit while dressed in cargo pants and a shirt that read “I’m from Milwaukee and that’s not funny.” So I didn’t wear what I feel most comfortable in.
I cannot change however, my age, my race, nor my place of birth, and I have too much self-respect to even contemplate a moving back to the US even just on paper.
So as long as I have to keep heading there, I will have to put up with the fact that I do not fit their profile. They’ll gladly take my money (I’m still a taxpayer, both personally and corporate now), but still can’t seem to handle the fact that I exist and mean no ill will.