Monday, 3 December 2012

A brief encounter with Uncle Sam.

It's 1.30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time on Sunday when our Delta Airlines Fight 71 from Amsterdam lands in Terminal 4 at JFK Airport in New York. I make my way to the immigration desk where a young woman asks for my passport, takes my photo and fingerprints and then escorts me to the office for a further interview. I've done this so many times, I am used to the drill. So I sit and wait as I catch up on my reading. Shortly thereafter, I am called to the counter by an immigration official.

"Have you ever been arrested in the United States?" He asks the question I have answered countless times before, upon every entry I have made to the US since my arrest in California in 1993. "Yes," I tell him. "What did you do?" He asks. "It was such a long time ago, I no longer remember," I tell him knowing he has the whole record on the computer and he can read it for himself.

"When you come into our country, you don't come here to break our laws," he says condescendingly as if he is lecturing a five year old. "Well, as I have told you, it was a long time ago and I have been here over 20 times since and I have not broken any law," I say trying to ignore my fatigue and to be polite. But he doesn't relent. "Do you hear what I am telling you. We have the right to deny you entry if you are coming here to break our laws," He says. "I already told you that I am coming for holiday and work, not to break any laws. In any case, as I have told you, that was a long time ago. I was a student, and as I recall, at least two of your presidents (Clinton and Obama) have admitted to smoking pot during their student days and you still elected them President."

"They are American citizens and you are not," He says to which I retort, "Well, Clinton smoked pot but he did not inhale while he was a student at Oxford, so he too was breaking the law in a foreign country," I tell him. "What were you doing at the time you were arrested in California in 1993?" He asks. "I was a student on holiday from Oxford University," I reply. "So you are quite clever then?" He tells me. "Oh yes I am," I reply.

He stamps my passport giving me six months to remain in the US no doubt hoping it's enough time for me to be tempted to break the law so he can deny me entry next time round. We smile at each other and wish each other a nice day. He was clearly the type that expects you to scratch even where there is no itch and to beg and plead, but I have spent a lifetime fighting for the rights of others and I'll be damned if I let Uncle Sam's nondescript Immigration official bully me for the sake of his own afternoon entertainment.

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