America Slams the Door (On Its Foot): Washington's Destructive New Visa Policies
John N. Paden is Clarence Robinson Professor of International Studies at George Mason University. P.W. Singer is Olin Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at the Brookings Institution and Coordinator of the Brookings Project on U.S. Policy Toward the Islamic World.See more by John N. PadenSee more by Peter W. Singer
On January 28, Ejaz Haider -- the editor of one of Pakistan's most influential newspapers and a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution -- was stopped outside the Washington think tank by two armed, plainclothes officers from the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). Haider had originally been invited to the United States by the State Department for a conference on U.S.-Pakistan relations. Nonetheless, he was arrested, hustled into a car, driven to a detention center, and interrogated for hours. The charge: he had allegedly failed to properly register his presence in the country -- something now required of visitors from many Muslim countries to the United States as part of a stringent set of immigration restrictions that have been imposed since the September 11, 2001, attacks.
Haider's arrest occurred despite the fact that he had been invited by the U.S. government, had already registered on his arrival, and indeed had been extensively interrogated when he first entered the country, some three months earlier. He had since done exactly as he was instructed by the INS' own telephone help line.
High-ranking officials at the State Department quickly intervened, raising sharp protests with their colleagues at the INS, and Haider was released that night, dumped in suburban Washington, D.C., with little but a subway card in his pocket. Furious, the Pakistani journalist, who had been to the United States six times before, resolved that he would not return as long as such policies continue. "This is not the United States I used to come to," he told The Washington Post.
In a sense, he was right. Whereas Haider's plight received a high level of attention due to his stature, his treatment was hardly unique. On the contrary, it revealed a disturbing pattern that has emerged in the year and a half since America was first attacked by terrorists: the U.S. government has begun to impose highly restrictive regulations on visitors from Muslim lands, restrictions that have had the primary effect of telling men like Ejaz Haider -- potential friends and supporters of the United States -- that they are no longer wanted in the country. A huge source of goodwill is thus being squandered, at precisely the time when the United States needs it most.