Shortly after the Bush government began fingerprinting and photographing foreign
visitors from countries whose nationals need visas to enter U.S. territory,
Brazilian Federal judge Julier Sebastião da Silva ordered that U.S.
citizens would have to be treated likewise upon entering that country. The
Brazilian judge's decision, which received mixed reactions from the international
community, is based on the principle of reciprocity.
According to the judge's
reasoning, if Brazilian nationals should be treated differently than those
of 21 other countries who do not need to go through the process (mostly members
of the EU) here, it is quite logical that Americans should be singled out
in foreign lands (a similar measure was suggested in Greece, but their government
turned down the idea).
While Secretary of State,
Colin Powell, criticized the measure as "discriminatory" and "hostile"
in a statement to Brazil Foreign Minister, Celso Amorim, I must say that I
was among the few people on this side of the U.S. border to applaud judge
First of all, I feel that
massive fingerprinting of foreign nationals not only is incredibly questionable
(for instance, what does the government really plan to do with the data? What
about civil liberties?), but also reeks of political correctness, which I
believe has gone too far in this country.
I am positive that, had
the Department for Homeland Security begun profiling solely nationals of Muslim
nations, which are terrorist "hot spots" as Israeli airline
El Al routinely does, the PC police would have had a ball in the press,
and that is just the kind of thing a politician with any horse sense would
want to avoid, especially in an election year.
So, it is easier to create
a smokescreen to pretend that we are protecting the country by creating a
massive database of foreign visitors while the fact that many possible terrorists
will not need to go through the process.
For instance, few remember
that the shoe bomber was a British national who, at this time, would have
been dismissed from the requirement had he planned to conduct his mischievous
plans in U.S. territory.
Now, before you start
kicking and screaming in rage, let me clarify one thing: I do believe that
something must be done to protect innocent people (citizen or not) from terrorist
acts like those that happened on 9/11, but I also believe that the methods
of the Bush camp are dangerously fallible, and I think I am not going out
on a limb here, also unconstitutional.
If memory doesn't fail,
the U.S. Constitution grants everyone equal protection in face of the law.
If that is the case, why are we granting differentiated treatment to the citizens
of some other countries? If we should create such a database, shouldn't everyone
entering this country be photographed and fingerprinted? I would think so,
and that is also the argument used by judge Silva, who stated that if the
U.S. government granted Brazilian nationals the same treatment given to those
of the said 21 nations, they would do the same there.
Some would say that Brazil
is not a target of international terrorism, as Rio de Janeiro Bar Organization
Octavio Gomes wrote in the daily O Globo recently, and that their measure
is simply vengeful. But then again, there are many U.S. citizens who visit
foreign lands to engage in illegal (if not criminal) activity that would be
more seriously persecuted here, such as soliciting of sex, use of readily
available leisure drugs and others.
The upcoming Carnaval
smorgasbord attracts millions of tourists who visit Brazil lured by specifically
those, um, attractions, so the whole registration thing wouldn't be such a
bad idea for them either.
I also believe that once
U.S. citizens feel how it is to be on that other end of the stick, they might
just press for the end of the whole process in favor of something more effective.
But the bottom line is
that if the U.S. has the right to indiscriminately create files on foreign
visitors here as a measure to thwart terrorist activity even if such country
has no history of acts of that kind, other nations have the same right to
do so in their lands for whatever reason they see fitand we should not
be whining about it.
Ernest Barteldes is an ESL and Portuguese teacher. In addition to that,
he is a freelance writer who has regularly been contributing The Greenwich
Village Gazette since September 1999. His work has also been published
by Brazzil, The Staten Island Advance, The Staten Island
Register, The SI Muse, The Villager, GLSSite and
other publications. He lives in Staten Island, NY. He can be reached at