Thursday, March 23, 2006

Face-to-Face with Homeland Security

Recently I accompanied my wife on a trip to get her "Green Card" renewed. She's a Canadian and has been in the US for 40 years. She's proud of being a Canadian and doesn't wish to change her citizenship. It's her choice and I respect that.

Back when we married she had only to report her current address annually using a postcard she could get at the local Post Office but even that requirement was dropped after a few years. Ten years ago the Immigration Service decided she needed a new card. That's a long tale of bureaucracy in itself. Suffice it to say that it took them 18 months to produce a simple laminated ID card at a cost of $100. I used to make the military ones when I was in the US Army. It took us about 10-15 minutes. The card she got 10 years ago is expiring so she applied early for the new one which now costs $260 to process.

The Immigration Service is now under the HOMELAND SECURITY DEPT. Unlike 10 years ago, photos can't be taken locally nor can the local police or even the immigration service agents at the border (only 20 miles away) take her fingerprints. These things are now called "biometrics" and they have to be done at a Homeland Security office where they have the latest high-tech biometrics equipment (AKA digital cameras & scanners). That office just happens to be over 3 hours away.

When we got there I couldn't go in. I guess my past military service with top secret security clearance is insufficient to rule me out as a security risk so I sat in the hallway while they scanned my wife with metal detectors to insure that she wasn't armed before proceding with the biometrics. The folks working there were pleasant according to my wife. Not being allowed inside, I wouldn't know. They had trouble taking her finger prints with the digital equipment, requiring multiple tries and ending up saying that they wouldn't know for 2 hours whether the ones they got were "accepted" and if they weren't she'd have to come back in 2-4 weeks. If a second try wasn't accepted she'd have to get the police to certify that she wasn't a criminal before they would issue her a new card.

I guess the finger prints they took 40 years ago or the ones they took 10 years ago are no longer acceptable and apparently they have trouble with a lot of peoples' high-tech digital fingerprints meeting the strict standards of clarity that the new rules require. The others there at the same time as my wife were having similar or worse problems and the agents told of a 94 year old woman they could not get satisfactory prints from. Apparently older folks prints are worn off their fingers to the point that the new high-tech equipment can't read them. I can just picture a 94 year old lady going into the police department asking them to certify that she isn't a crook.

So... now we are awaiting a letter that tells us whether she has to go back to try again. If she does that's another 6 hour round trip (are they in partnership with the gasoline companies?). As we walked back to the car from the Homeland Security office I thought about the people working in there behind locked doors with metal detectors and armed guards in the name of keeping us all safe. The image reminded me of the NYC Police Dept. depicted in the Heavy Metal Movie and it occured to me that some in this country are safer as a result of the hundereds of millions spent on Homeland Secrurity. I'm pretty sure though that I'm not one of those who is safer. I wonder what they are doing about all those people who came into the country illegally.

P.S. The fingerprints were accepted by the FBI and she got her card without a second trip to Homeland Security's Syracuse 'castle keep'. Who knows what another 10 years will bring.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Arabs, the US ports and George Bush

The president can't seem to grasp why people are so upset over the idea of an Arab company running 6 major US ports. It doesn't seem to dawn on him that his own repeated mantra over the last 4 and a half years ("9/11 changed everything") created that mass attitude. He has been drilling into the American public that we have to protect ourselves from terrorists even at the price of surrenduring our liberty yet he can't comprehend why 70% of that same public sees the running of 6 US ports by the country 2 of the 9/11 terrorists came from feel threatened by that. I feel threatened by having a clueless president in the White House.