28 June 2010

Is the US landing card the most ridiculous questionnaire of all time?

I'm flying to New York later today and, for the first time, have had to apply to the US Department of Homeland Security for clearance in advance under its ESTA scheme (Electronic System for Travel Authorization).

An unexpected bonus was that I've at last got my hands on a copy of the ridiculous questions I've previously had to answer (in a state of total bemusement) during the flight - as I've often wished I could photocopy them to show to my American friends.

This is because fellow passengers who are US citizens don't have to complete such forms and therefore have no idea of the sheer absurdity of the questionnaire that we foreigners are busy filling in to prepare for our encounter with passport control on arrival.

Now that I've had to do it online, I'm finally able to share it with those of you who pay the taxes that enable your government to pursue such penetrating investigations on your behalf.

You might also like to know that the hard-copy version, which was never handed out until flights were well on their way across the Atlantic, included the helpful instruction that, if any of the answers was 'Yes', we should report immediately to our local US embassy.

Do any of the following apply to you? (Answer Yes or No)

A) Do you have a communicable disease; physical or mental disorder; or are you a drug abuser or addict? YES/NO

B) Have you ever been arrested or convicted for an offense or crime involving moral turpitude or a violation related to a controlled substance; or have been arrested or convicted for two or more offenses for which the aggregate sentence to confinement was five years or more; or have been a controlled substance trafficker; or are you seeking entry to engage in criminal or immoral activities? YES/NO

C) Have you ever been or are you now involved in espionage or sabotage; or in terrorist activities; or genocide; or between 1933 and 1945 were you involved, in any way, in persecutions associated with Nazi Germany or its allies? YES/NO

D) Are you seeking to work in the U.S.; or have you ever been excluded and deported; or been previously removed from the United States or procured or attempted to procure a visa or entry into the U.S. by fraud or misrepresentation? YES/NO

E) Have you ever detained, retained or withheld custody of a child from a U.S. citizen granted custody of the child? YES/NO

F) Have you ever been denied a U.S. visa or entry into the U.S. or had a U.S. visa canceled?YES/NO If YES, when and where?

G) Have you ever asserted immunity from prosecution? YES/NO

P.S. To these, I would like to add two more questions of my own:

H) Do you think anyone in their right mind would expect persons involved in moral turpitude and the like to answer 'Yes' to any of these questions? YES/NO

I) Do you think that the printing, distribution, collection and processing of these questionnaires is a valuable use of US taxpayers' money? YES/NO


Anonymous said...

I think that the a reason for the silly questions is that any visitor to the US has certain rights - due process, access to an attorney, fair trial, etc etc.

If the authorities can prove that you entered the US in 'bad faith' i.e. by lying on the form, you can be denied these rights.

TRH said...

Dear Max,

Gilbert Chesterton beat you to the punch on this.
From his 'What I saw in America' (1908).

He describes the form he has to fill out to visit the U.S.:

"They put in my hands a form to be filled up, to all
appearance like other forms I had filled up in other passport offices....
One of the questions on the paper was, 'Are you an anarchist?' To which a detached philosopher would naturally feel inclined to answer, 'What the devil has that to do with you? ... Then there was the question, 'Are you in favour of subverting the government of the United States by force?' Against this I should write, 'I prefer to answer that question at the end of my tour and not the beginning.' The inquisitor, in his more than morbid curiosity, had then written down, 'Are you a polygamist?' The answer to this is, 'No such luck' or 'Not such a fool,' according to our experience of the other sex. ...
But among many things that amused me almost to the point of treating the form thus disrespectfully, the most amusing was the thought of the ruthless outlaw who should feel compelled to treat it respectfully. I like to think of the foreign desperado, seeking to slip into America with official papers under official protection, and sitting down to write with a beautiful gravity, 'I am an anarchist. I hate you all and wish to destroy you.'
...There seems to be a certain simplicity of mind about these answers; and it is reassuring to know that anarchists and polygamists are so pure and good that the police have only to ask them questions and they are certain to tell no lies."

Warm regards,


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Michael LaRocca said...

As an American who's lived in several Asian countries and traveled to a few more, I don't find those questions all that strange.

That stuff about Jessica Alba earning money online, however, is weird.

Anonymous said...

I believe the purpose of the strange questions is that if you turn out to be any of the things described, they get to deport you for having lied. They don't have to waste time proving that the thing itself is undesirable.

Example: It's not a US crime to be a Nazi or an anarchist. They can't expel you for those things. So the only way around this is to expel you for having lied upon entry about being those things.

In essence, they are trick questions.

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