VISA Interview Waiver Programs, VISA Waiver Programs, INA Sec 222, What?

So hey, how about these last 7 days, eh? Have we figured out how to stop this ride? No? Not yet? Cuz we really, really need to – our tangerine toddler can’t write worth a damn, and it’s starting to cause some problems.

Buried in the orange anger ifrit’s latest assault on civil rights and human decency is a section that boils down to a lot of head-scratching and confusion. Section 8 of the vile executive action that violates US immigration laws while consigning Syrian refugees to death reads:

Sec. 8. Visa Interview Security. (a) The Secretary of State shall immediately suspend the Visa Interview Waiver Program and ensure compliance with section 222 of the INA, 8 U.S.C. 1222, which requires that all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview, subject to specific statutory exceptions.

Waitwhat – suspend, immediately, the Visa Waiver Program? The VWP is an agreement between the US and 35-odd other countries that lets their citizens travel to the USA for 90 days or less without first securing a VISA, provided they meet a list of requirements. This facilitates travel and tourism, minimizes US costs in other countries, and is generally a nice thing – especially for those of us who have ex-pat spouses and family we adore in other countries.

Suspending this would be catastrophic, and Section 8 seems pretty clear – all nonimmigrants must undergo an in-person interview, pursuant to section 222 of the INA, 8 USC 1222, unless that’s waived by something like the VISA Waiver Program. The language seems pretty clear that “all individuals seeking a nonimmigrant visa undergo an in-person interview” – those statutory exceptions are listed in section 222 of the INA, but are your basic consular/diplomatic type things. Certainly, they’re not “travel tourists!”

Yeah, I know. Click to embiggen.

Except, there’s also an Interview Waiver Program, which has been completely scrubbed from the main State Department website, but you can still see (as of 3am Saturday the 28th of January – oh hey, gong xi fa cai) on the State Department’s Indonesian website. They talk about an interview waiver program, which is essentially the VISA Waiver Program, but for countries who are not officially designated VWP countries:

Many Indonesians who wish to renew their visas may qualify for the interview waiver program which allows for visa renewal without an interview. If qualified, applicants only need to pay the visa application fee, fill out the visa application form, print out a Drop-Box Confirmation Letter, and drop off documents at the RPX Document Drop-off Location any weekday between 10am and 3pm. Qualified applicants do not need to appear at the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta or the U.S. Consulate General in Surabaya for an interview.

Okay, that maybe clears – hang on. The “additional resources” page (see picture) is just redirecting folks to the VWP page. So basically, the IWP is just the VWP (and note that if you can find any US government web page that talks about an interview waiver program separate from the VISA Waiver Program, they refer to it as a IWP; the “VISA” bit isn’t included, perhaps in an effort to eliminate the confusion going on right now.)

Australian and New Zealand newspapers are running with two stories: that this does and does not affect their citizens (as both countries are designated VWP participants). So what does this mean? Does the VWP still exist? Is this VISA Interview Waiver Program different?

I think the answer to all is “…who knows.”

Given that search results still pull up an Interview Waiver Program, and there are still results live on country-specific State Department websites, it seems safe to say that, cloudy and awful language aside, the intent of Section 8 of the horrid human rights fail of an executive order is attempting to stop interview-free travel for trustworthy citizens of non-VWP designated countries. But as we all know, the problem with “intent” is that you can have Intent A and still end up with Effect B; in this instance, I see nothing in Section 8 that says by “ensuring compliance with INA,” they mean “ensuring compliance by nonimmigrants from all countries except VWP participants.” Do you?

Now, add to that and keep in mind that admission into the USA – even if you’re from a VWP-participating country – is completely up to the customs and immigration agent you’re talking to, and their understanding of the law, and you can see why people are freaking out. The executive order is unclear, appears to be smooshing together two separate VISA-waiving programs, and reiterates that all nonimmigrants must have valid VISAs to enter the USA.

So what’s going to happen when someone tries to enter the US with a VWP, now?

I’d like to say business as usual, they’ll be admitted, no problems – but I can’t. All I can say is, if you’re from a VWP-participating country and have plans to visit America, call your consular office first thing Monday morning and see what they say. Follow their advice, ask if they have an updates email service, and check back with them frequently. Make sure your documents are all on the up-and-up for travel, be polite to agents you’re dealing with when entering the USA, and hope that clarification comes sooner rather than later (or that the entire thing is just dropped – the order itself is illegal seven ways to Sunday, not that that’s stopped our tiny-handed kleptocrat).

With thanks to Jeremy Youde for pointing out the second SBS tourism article and helping me think through the issue.

American Thoughts on Australia Day & Acknowledgement of Country

Yesterday/today (the 26th of January; time is a weird thing when you’re straddling the dateline) is Australia Day, also known as Invasian Day–it’s a day of celebration akin to the drunken antics of Americans on the fourth of July for European Australians, “settlers,” and a day of mourning for Aboriginal Australian and Torres Strait Islander communities who see it as a day of invasion and subsequent struggle to survive. So basically, the partying of the Fourth of July mixed in with Thanksgiving–after all, the European Australians did much the same to the Aboriginal Australians and Torres Strait Islanders as Americans did to Native Americans.

White folks, we aren’t so great at respecting other cultures.

Survival Day is becoming a common reference instead of Australia Day, but it seems like a general preference is still to separate out BBQs and beer from remembering genocide. (Click image to enlarge.)

Survival Day is becoming a common reference instead of Australia Day, but it seems like a general preference is still to separate out BBQs and beer from remembering genocide. (Click image to enlarge.)

And the thing is, it’s not like the Indigenous Australians aren’t down with celebrating Australia–they are, after all, Australians, too. It’s just they’d really like it if perhaps the party could be held on not the same day that commemorates mass slaughter and attempts at cultural eradication that still go on today.

Anyhow, you should read this article over at Buzzfeed and watch the embedded video, below. But what I wanted to talk about was something that I saw people doing online: identifying the land they woke up in. This seems to be a variation on the Acknowledgement of Country that happens at a lot of official events, and it’s one where individuals, yesterday, were acknowledging the historic people of the land they live on:

This, I thought, was neat, and a way of showing respect to people who you yourself may not have harmed, but your ancestors did harm, by virtue of their participation in the forming of the place called Australia–or America.

I thought I’d compile my own list of the Native American lands I’ve lived on in my time floating across the United States; what I didn’t imagine was that it would take me several hours to track this information down. After all, I grew up attending Ohlone events in the San Francisco Bay Area, and doesn’t everyone know that the Duwamish were the historical peoples in the Greater Seattle area?

Except that the Ohlone, formerly the Costanoans, didn’t view themselves as a single “Indian tribe” but a loose group of about 50 distinct landholding tribes or bands who shared a similar language, religion, and culture but saw themselves as distinct. They, like many other Native peoples, were squished together into readily identified tribal groups by the United States government during its long period of sucking, and trying to find out the specifics of the folks who lived in a specific area rather than the region (so I coul answer the equivalent of “Philadelphia” instead of “the mid-Atlanic”) proved…frustrating. A lot of this is because by the time anyone in America had the idea that maybe they should record this information, the people were dying or dead; many of the last speakers of languages, the last of their group, tribe, people, were dying in the late 1800s to 1920s, and American society was set on eradication of tribal groups. The disappearance of this knowledge was just fine with most.

So it is with some struggle and uncertainty that I can say I have lived on the lands of the following people:
The Muwekema Ohlone (Alson, Seunen, Luecha, and Puichon)
The Numa, Washeshu and Newe People
The Kalapuyan Peoples (Chelamela and Tualatin)
The Multnomah People
The Duwamish Tribe (Skagit-Nisqually/Lushootseed)
The Iroquois League/Haudenosaunee (Mohawk Nation)

And this morning, I woke up on Lenni Lenape (Unami dialect) land.

I don’t really have anything quippy to say here in finish. I think that the way we–Americans and Australians–handle our commemoration of events is painfully white and alienating, that we casually erase history with no thought to the pain it causes people who call that history their own. I think that it’s a shame we have to repeatedly have conversations about whether or not it’s a problem to have sportsball teams named after racist slurs, that we set up parties on days of massacres, that we celebrate the slaughter of millions with mattress sales and BBQs, and that we can’t get it around our heads to treat the other folks we live with, folks of colour, with the respect we want for ourselves every day.

Knowing the names of the tribal lands I have lived on won’t change any of that, but at least it allows me to move a bit closer to an ideal of mindfulness and respect that I think we should all strive towards.