Assume the Position
Wednesday, December 24, 2003
Connecting The Dots - In Advance
How much have attitudes really changed since Sep 11, 2001? Instead using 20/20 hindsight to pick and choose among dots to develop a case about intelligence failures prior to the hijackings, let's connect a couple of dots that are out there right now, describe an all too imaginable scenario, consider one small mitigating action that can be taken, and see how a prototypical warblogger reacts.
The reaction of a prototypical warblogger: How about Matt Welch? His reaction is in this National Post article, "Journalists expelled, terrorists allowed in - Washington uses obscure visa as political weapon," which concludes:
This is the post-Sep 11 world, but what is imaginable from connecting-the-dots doesn't seem to matter as much as the opinions of "respectable international press-freedom organizations" and that terrorists haven't already used that method at least once in the US.
Welch's article is better than either the headline or the concluding paragraph indicate, and he may have forgotten or never known how Masoud was assassinated. In his post announcing the article, he said, "This is one of the rare instances where I'd like to distance myself somewhat from a headline..." Welch makes some good points in the article: 1) the rules surrounding the I-Visa requirement are confusing and haven't been well publicized, 2) enforcement currently seems to only happen at LAX, 3) the contrast between the I-Visa requirement for all foreign journalists and the ease of entry for most other citizens visiting for business or pleasure from Visa Waiver Program (VWP) eligible countries who don't need the standard Business/Tourist (B-1/B-2) Visas, and 4) the treatment of visa-less journalists in several cases (if not exaggerated) seems to have been mistreatment.
Where Welch's article misses is in failing to recognize that journalists, once in the country, are granted a lot more leeway and access based on their credentials than most visitors. Who would have a better chance of arranging for a brief chat with the Commander of CENTCOM, the Chief of Naval Operations, or the Commander of US Joint Forces Command at West 2004 in the San Diego Convention Center: a foreign tourist, a foreign engineer, or a foreign journalist?
Possibly because his article focuses on journalists, it also seems Welch is saying journalism is the only activity denied Visa Waiver Program-Business entry for stays less than 90-days. It's not. Students attending courses of any length require a Student (F-1/M-1) Visa. Anyone doing temporary work for any length of time requires a Temporary Work Visa, and those include not just the H series visas (H-1A nurse, H-1B technical specialist, H-2A agricultural worker, H-2B other unskilled, and H-3 trainees) but also P visas for athletes and entertainers, Q visas for participation in cultural exchange programs, R visas for ministers, E visas for treaty traders and investors, O visas for extraordinary ability in various fields, and, if you hadn't guessed yet, the I visa for journalists. (How well those requirements are enforced is probably a different story.)
It's a bit of definitional tom-foolery, but conducting business is not considered to be working. That means foreign customers from eligible countries attending a trade show in the US can enter under without a visa; but foreign entertainers hired to perform during the show, foreign journalists covering the show, and the Archbishop of Canterbury brought in to give an opening benediction, would all require the appropriate temporary working visa (the Pope, however, could probably use his diplomatic passport and not require a visa).
Finally, the VWP applies to citizens of eligible countries, not merely legal residents. While some terrorists, like shoebomber Richard Reid, are citizens, the larger source of terrorists coming from VWP eligible countries are legal and illegal immigrants to those countries, like LAX Millennium bomber Amhed Ressam. One more paragraph from Escobar to show why I used the US Embassy in Belgium for the visa links:
Changes to the law in 2000 gave Belgium one of the loosest nationalization laws in the world, requiring only 3 years as a legal resident to become a citizen.
If it was up to me, I'd end the Visa Waiver Program. It would inconvenience a lot of travellers (Americans, too, since the rules are based on reciprocity), but it's the VWP that is a liability in the current day, not temporary work visas, including the I visa for journalists.