Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Immigration and Consular Work: A challenge to ideals?

This is not a post about policy, or even about practice. This is a rumination on the beliefs, not fully formed though they are, I have developed regarding immigration, and how those views may be challenged once I get to the embassy in Kingston and begin interviewing people who want to come to the US for any number of reasons.

Training at the Foreign Service training institute gives me an opportunity to meet colleagues and share experiences, to get a plethora of opinions, useful hints, impressions on countries and Foreign Affairs life and practice. All Foreign Service Officers pass through FSI now and again - some are training for their first assignment, like me, some are coming back to the USA for the first time in 8 years to get a little training so they can go out and do it again. Talking to these veterans is often one of the most useful and most interesting part of a day.

However, a great piece of advice I got from a more seasoned colleague: no two officers have the same experience nor the same point of view, so be careful making any decisions or forming any expectations based on the stories of one person.

I have come to believe that immigration is one of the things that makes the United States a great country. Restricting the flow of smart and ambitious people that want to come to this country to build their home and life will strangle off one of the US's greatest comparative advantages.

I was struck, however, by the candor of a conversation I had with a colleague who had worked as a Consular Officer in a country where, like Jamaica, there are a large number of applicants for both Immigrant and Non Immigrant  Visas as well as a high occurrence of fraud in these Visa applications. No matter how liberal your views on immigration, this person told me, by the time you finish 12 months of interviewing 50 or more people a day, you are going to feel differently. Having people lie to you, over and over and over, the person said, wears you down, adding that many people have no respect for you as a representative of the United States or the legal process for the immigration process.

I am eager to get to Kingston and to have my ideals challenged. I am sure that there are people out there who will lie because they think it will increase their chances of making it into the US. Other, perhaps more optimistic Officers, have told me that people do often fudge the truth in their applications and their interviews, but more often than not it is because they simply do not fully understand the process or realize that the truth does not necessarily disqualify them for a visa.

However, whether I like it or not, it is my responsibility to realize that there are people who want to move across national borders in order to commit crimes or hurt other people. There is a lot of money to be made from moving drugs, for example, to the US. And of course, in a worse case scenario, there are people like the nefarious underwear bomber who boarded a US bound plane on a valid visa.

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