‘Fed-ophobia’ aflicts tourists, Americans

by Staff

Sometimes in America, it feels like there should be signs at every international airport’s passport control that reads: “Welcome to the United States – nervous?” Foreign visitors certainly are, according to a recent RT Strategies poll, so much so that many have decided against coming here.

Conducted for the Discover America Partnership, a coalition of the tourism industry, the survey shows that the United States is ranked worst for obtaining visas and immigration procedures, according to Reuters. More than half of those surveyed said U.S. immigration officials are “rude” and two-thirds fear being detained from simple paperwork mistakes or saying the wrong thing to officials.

Funny thing is, visitors to the United States might not be alone. Americans tend not to be very comfortable in the presence of their own government, either.

When I travel internationally, I dread going through passport control when returning to the U.S. The immigration officials take so long to look over my passport that it leaves me thinking something is wrong even though I know my passport’s perfectly valid. Also, the paperwork that has to be filled out before landing is confusing, so I always worry that I might get something wrong and end up in a nightmare homecoming.

It doesn’t stop at the airport, either. Most Americans would instantly feel guilty if a pair of FBI agents came to talk to them even if they could swear they never did anything wrong.

The same goes for Drug Enforcement Administration agents or any other law enforcement branch of the federal government.

The IRS, while not essentially a law enforcement agency, is probably the most frightening of all because of its well-known power to make you miserable if your tax return doesn’t look right.

In fact, just say “federal government” and the automatic response tends to be “uh oh.”

So why does our government give us the heebie-jeebies? It’s not the same in some other democracies. Germans, for example, don’t get the creeps from the presence of the Federal Police, according to www.wikipedia.com. In fact, they’re perceived as a source of security. The Royal Canadian Mounted Police have a worldwide reputation as polite heroes.

Perhaps it’s because unlike federal agencies in the United States, these foreign governments haven’t given their people a reason to be so scared. Between the Patriot Act, Guantanamo Bay and all the federal eavesdropping, the U.S. government has done a fine job of making the American people afraid – very afraid – of the agencies that are supposed to protect us.

What the federal government has done is severely violate the people’s trust. Americans once had confidence in the government – to protect us from a Soviet invasion during the Cold War. Then, the FBI formed COINTELPRO, a shady program that targeted everyone from communists to Martin Luther King Jr.’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference, according to www.wikipedia.com.

Americans once had faith that the government would protect us from terrorists, especially after 9/11. But, then the government gave itself the power to snoop through the minutiae of our lives, read our e-mails and listen in on our phone calls.

Whenever there’s a major threat to national security, it appears that the government goes after its citizens instead of the real enemy. No wonder we feel so guilty when government agents show up – we’re always the focus of the investigation whether we did anything wrong or not.

All the RT Strategies poll demonstrates is that the rest of the world has caught on to our fear.

It’s not easy for Americans or visitors to gain back their trust, but the federal government can do it if it really wants to. It could follow real leads rather than turn up the heat under everyone and wait to see what happens.

It could declare a war on something and actually fight the “something” instead of turning on the populace.

It could even stop acting like the rest of the planet is this horrific hostile place and realize that a tourist is most likely just a tourist.

The United States has a long way to go to recover from its tarnished world reputation. Tourism is probably the best place to start getting our good name back but that won’t happen until the federal government becomes a little less threatening to would-be visitors and to its citizens.

If it does, maybe then we can all breathe a little easier.

-Veronica Rollin is a political science senior.

-This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of The Daily Aztec. Send e-mail to letters@thedailyaztec.com. Anonymous letters will not be printed – include your full name, major and year in school.

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