I really didn’t want to read about this

What US Customs looks like from the outside
From Scary Go Round – US customs as seen from the point of view of someone who travels in a lot.

For the longest time, I’ve been telling myself I wasn’t going to travel to the United States – not as long as being in transit means I have no rights, not as long as I have to be fingerprinted, prodded, questioned and poked before I’m allowed in, not as long as shit like this can happen, not as long as George Bush is President and the dumb fucks who voted for him in 2004 are still allowed not just to vote, but to drive as well.

Well, I’ve changed my mind. I have a damned good reason. However, it’s the same reason this Italian traveler had, so reading about that struck a chord:

He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was “a totally Virginia girl,” as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington’s home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper.

Domenico Salerno, with his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper, in Rome on Sunday. He was held for 10 days in the United States after being denied entry.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit – meaning Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon – eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural Virginia jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out.

Now the odds of this happening to me are, realistically, slight. It’s the principle that matters though. This is what can happen and if it happens to you, you have no rights. I wonder, though, whether Americans understand how much this hurts them. The American authorities have permanently deterred Mr. Salerno from returning to the US, spending his valuable Euros there and doing the volunteer work in the community he was a guest in (more on that below). Any tax moneys spent on Ms. Cooper’s education will be benefitting Italy instead once she’s tunneled her way out of the Land of the Free. People reading the story, like Martin Wisse who I got the link from, will be thinking twice about traveling to the US while the conditions above apply, and they also won’t be bringing their Euros in. This shit adds up.

Aggie and I discussed this incident a bit, and without wanting to put any blame on Mr. Salermo, there are probably lessons to learn about what kind of behaviour to avoid when traveling to the US. I guess by now all reasonably intelligent people understand that you don’t say things like "I have a bomb strapped to my chest! Allahu Ackbar!" when customs ask you if you have anything to declare. It’s probably not a good idea to testify to your own character by telling Immigration you’ve done volunteer work in your host community and that you’re integrating well with it, especially if your English isn’t too good. It’s not clear from the article whether Mr. Salermo did that, but it’s a possibility and I’ll add it to the list of behaviour to avoid for the 17 hours or so of nonpersonhood on my trip. It’s probably an even worse idea to do that while being Meditterranian-looking.

After my summer trip, my next visit will be after the elections, but before the next President’s inauguration. The post-Bush restoration project will be a long and arduous one, but I hope that they’ll find time to look at the policies that make abuses like this one possible.