Homeland Security

Tuesday, 2 June 2009

homeland_security_logoWith a name that sounds like it came from Stalinist Russia it’s hardly surprising that Homeland Security are not the favourite US government department. They look after immigration so for overseas visitors they’re the first taste of US bureaucracy. They don’t have a good reputation, although my bad experiences have only been tediously slow processing and although they’re never going to compete with immigration departments who pride themselves on fast processing (like Singapore) I’ve been lucky of late.

Until I arrived at Dallas-Fort Worth from Costa Rica on 12 May and stood in line for almost an hour. The line was much longer by the time I got through so I’m pretty sure people further back would have waited for much longer. No problems, just the usual painfully slow processing and far too few agents relative to the number of arrivals waiting to clear immigration. It’s not rocket science, you’ve got a pretty good idea how many people will be arriving. I just made my connecting flight to LA, my bag didn’t. Recently two other people had much more trouble with Homeland Security:

Hernando Calvo Ospina
A Colombian journalist on assignment for the French paper Le Monde Diplomatique, Mr Ospina wasn’t even visiting the US when he ran into Homeland Security problems. His Paris-Mexico City flight had to divert to Martinique in the Caribbean to refuel because, when the plane was out over the Atlantic, Homeland Security decided they disliked Mr Ospina so much they didn’t even want him flying over the US! The Air France aircraft had to make a lengthy diversion around US airspace, hence the refuelling stop. Click here for more on this story, including the interesting question of what the US might do if Cuba started to demand passenger lists of US aircraft flying over Cuba and occasionally demanded they divert and fly around the island. US flights to Central America routinely fly over Cuba, including my Miami-San José (Costa Rica) flight in early May. Click here for Calvo Ospina’s own story.

Mairead Maguire
Two days after I arrived in Texas the Northern Irish Nobel Peace Prize winner had much more trouble with Homeland Security. Arriving in Houston from a conference in Guatemala she was pulled aside and didn’t get through immigration for two hours, by which time she had missed her flight home. She was hosting the Guatemala conference along with three other female Nobel Peace Prize laureates, click here for her full story.

You can’t do much when even flying over US territory can cause problems, but sometimes there is the option of bypassing the US and its problems. Last year I had a choice of flying Bogota-Miami-London or Bogota-Madrid-London – same flight time, same cost, just swap American Airlines for Iberia. I did.