Monday, April 18, 2005
Land of the Free, iterum
I just returned home to the States from vacation abroad. This is the reverse side of the Customs Declaration form each arriving traveler must fill out. Note that "obscene articles" are generally prohibited entry, and are on par with controlled substances and toxic substances.
Toxic and controlled substances are fairly unambiguous, but the best definition we have of obscene articles is, "I know it when I see it" (Justice Stewart, JACOBELLIS v. OHIO), which certainly gives pretty wide latitude to the customs agent. And the courts are firm in the determination that obscene material is not protected by the First Amendment (ROTH v. UNITED STATES, MILLER v. CALIFORNIA).
I often wonder at the impression visitors must get of the real United States when the actually enter this country. The obligatory hassle of having to fill out these bureaucratic forms on the plane, what the forms actually say, the scary, no-mans-land, police-state atmosphere of the immigration line, with the prohibition on the use of phones and the use of cameras, and the officious, monolingual shouting uniformed personnel herding the yearning masses along. (The actual immigration agents themselves tend to be nice enough, but I wonder if that's just in relief to the ominous buildup...) Where is the Sweet Land of Liberty proclaimed in all the Hollywood propaganda and advertising?
This time through my wife had to go to the scary back room where they can disappear people, because her name set off some flag. They wouldn't tell her what exactly it was, of course, and they won't guarantee that it has been cleared up by them seeing her; in fact, quite the opposite: they seemed to insinuate that this will be a continuing hassle for her every time she enters the country. Why this couldn't be settled by them seeing her, determining that she wasn't the person they were looking for, and noting her passport number in the system so that she wouldn't be bothered in future, is one of those mysteries of Security that we mere laymen are not able to understand. I wonder if the Brazilian super model who shares my wife's name is getting the same hassle? Or maybe she's the one they're looking for...?