The Dual Standard
In the past two weeks, this author has had firsthand experience with what has become the norm for international travelers between the United States and Japan; the application of systemic border control activities to air travel. In fairness, virtually the same systems are widely applied to any travel *to* the USA from Visa-Waiver countries and Japan has simply set a higher standard than previously existed on all ingress-egress by air. Here are some of the features of the systems encountered:
For a foreign national departing Japan, an exit card must be filed with Immigration Control. In the case of those with some form of allowed Residency (temporary or permanent), this is one piece of a two-part document called a re-entry card. More on the second part of that form, below. Resident Foreigners must also have current permission to exit and re-enter the country (a special passport seal, multiple use type being good for three years, which is functionally an administrative fee to cover the cost of tracking). Implicit in this whole routine is the fact that *all* residents of Japan of any nationality must have a registered address and a certificate thereof issued through the (local) government.
Both Japanese nationals and foreign nationals go through the ordinary passport inspection and search, by government officers of near-perfect manner and expediency. A substantial armed police presence is close at hand throughout the open (unscreened) side of the terminal. Metal detection and carry-on possession screening is all manual operation, with variable set-points for detection sensitivity based on a combination of random and risk factors, and there are all the most recent features for operator assistance on the X-ray systems (imaging; dual measurement; color enhancement; object shape accentuation)… none of which would stop a competent threat… but remember: this is on departure from Japan. The combination of very few threat factors originating inside the country and the nearly-always-laxer standards on exit than on entry pretty much explains why things are done as they are.
For an American national (re-)entering the USA, the possession of a current American passport creates what is functionally a “wave and smile” reception at Immigration Control. Traveling in the company of a foreign-national spouse presented only slightly longer in-processing -- so long as the foreign national of the pair / family had completed the now-mandatory on-line registration prior to travel and they possess a current-type passport with an implanted data chip -- the couple is permitted to go through processing together, and the only difference in treatment is the biometric data collection (digital photo and two fingerprints) required of the foreign national.
Perversely, the treatment of all travelers inside the USA by the now-federalized local security officers is far less effective and far more pretentious. A determined effort is required by couples traveling together to remain together through all the processing (a *must* if one of the group has a disability or language deficit requiring escort-in-transit), and anything but the most obsequious conduct by the traveler is grounds for high-handedness and attitude from the “officer”. Fortunately there are a handful of qualified Federal Officers just behind the front lines, and excepting those times where the security queue is badly backlogged (commuter flights on either US coast), those superior officers are more than helpful in overruling unreasonable conduct by the line inspectors. This is a very good thing, as the current legal situation allows passenger diversion, separation and detention on the whim of the inspecting officer… and if that whim is to treat a question or request as an insult to the officer, one can be in for a very, very hard time.
Foreign nationals traveling unescorted are also at risk to befalling such at the international point-of-arrival. Here is a case documented by Michael Yon of just such an occurrence.
One additional note on the foreigner’s experience on arrival to the USA: The Customs and Immigration form written by the arriving air-traveler only asks for the first address the individual will be staying at inside the USA… and can be the name of the hotel. This means that there is no functional tracking of foreign visitors within the country, and that matters most when there is no exit control to confirm a visitor actually leaves at some point.
Once one’s travels about within the United States have come to their conclusion, the last few steps out the door are supposed to complete the cycle. Once again, traveling with an American passport virtually ensures no significant exit issues at Immigration Control, but notably there is also no apparent exit control applied to foreign nationals either. As recently as three years ago there was an effort made to out-process foreign visitors by use of USA-VISIT computer terminals (similar to an ATM) placed near the departure gates where the individual would indicate that they had cleared Immigration Control and were ready to board their departing flight. No such mechanism was noticed on this trip. The only apparent record was the scan of the foreign national’s passport at the self-service check-in / baggage check at the Airline’s counter in the open terminal area. *If* that was integrated into the border control system, fine. If not, then we are back to the days of having no record of a foreign national leaving the control regime, which is a recipe for massive visa overstaying.
Physical security inspection of persons and carry-on items is similar if not identical to that done for domestic air travel inside the USA. This is the usual song and dance, with the usual “blind-squirrel-finds-an-acorn” chance of detecting a competently executed threat, but it does serve to catch potentially dangerous fools (which remains a far more likely risk than one well-planned and executed).
Upon this author’s return home to Japan, the usual Immigration Control for arrivals was there but sadly there are now three lane discriminations: Japanese nationals; Ordinary Foreign Arrivals; and Residents of Foreign Nationality (previously, Residents were processed in the same system as returning Japanese nationals; now only those of former Colonial descent “Special Permanent Residents” are allowed to do so). However, in the case of Residents of Foreign Nationality traveling with Japanese nationals, an effort is made to keep the group together -- by routing the Japanese national through the Residents lanes. I have no complaint about that; the key is to keep groups together somehow. In the Residents lane, the foreigner submits the second half of that Re-Entry Card document mentioned above, gets logged in with the biometric system (digital photo and two fingerprints, virtually the same as the USA system). Any accompanying Japanese national is then in-processed (sequentially, but close enough to help if the Resident had some problem) by passport inspection and a nice “welcome home”. If all is in good order, it is off to Baggage Claim and Customs. No big deal… well…
Here are the questions on the Re-Entry Card for Residents of Foreign Nationality. Do try to avoid imagining what would happen if the answer to #1 or #2 is “Yes”:
(1) Have you ever been found guilty in a criminal case in Japan or in another country? Yes / No
(2) Do you presently have in your possession narcotics, marijuana, opium, stimulants, or other drugs, swords, explosives or other such items? Yes / No
(3) How much money in cash do you presently have in your possession? (state amount and denomination)
Note for further comedic value: neither Japanese nationals nor Colonial-descendents (SPR) are asked such questions in writing, if at all.
Has anyone noticing the hole in the system yet, whether speaking of that in the USA or Japan?
An American dual-national enters and leaves the USA as American. No biometric requirement; no secondary questioning; no entry / exit control other than possession of a passport.
A Japanese “dual-national” (i.e. one in possession of Japanese nationality who has not renounced any other nationality they are entitled to) is by law Japanese anywhere under Japanese jurisdiction. No biometric requirement; no secondary questioning; no entry / exit control other than possession of a passport (now; used to be required).
Hypothetically speaking, dual identities would not work as the name on one of the passports would by definition not match the name on the travel itinerary, but obviously a well constructed false (or real but innocuous) identity used for both passports would pass. It just takes years, or state-sponsored misrepresentation, to legally obtain such documents.
In an ideal case, no misrepresentation is even required.
Now consider the potential for just such a move done by a competent foreign State or Actor, because Somali or Pakistani jihadis recruited through known and compromised groups like the Moslem Brotherhood front-organizations don’t count as competent.
If one ever needed an argument in favor of equal treatment of all persons crossing a controlled border, this is it.
Screen them all to the same standard, or one may as well screen none of them.
Screen them at land crossings and ports of entry as well as airports.
…and, if one can’t control one’s borders or coastlines, then enforce identification within the Nation and allow law enforcement to take fair and appropriate action against undocumented individuals.
It would be a wonderful thing if every nation could trust every visiting foreigner, but like many wonders such an ideal is simply not real, nor reasonable.
All end notes are embedded as links in the text.