An inscription on the Statue of Liberty exhorts the world to “Give us your poor, your tired, your huddled masses

longing to be free…” If a modern day Liberty was commissioned, the inscription would probably read “Don’t give us anybody”. The USA has witnessed a 17% decline in tourism since 9/11. The old maxim that everyone and his maiden aunt wants to come to America, no longer seems to hold true. In fact, according to the Commerce Department, the US is the only major country in the world which has witnessed a decline in tourism, in the midst of a global tourism boom. The reaction of many Americans reading this would be ‘good riddance’ or ‘it’s no skin off my nose’. Well, actually it is. According to the pollsters, the number one issue in the 2008 US Presidential elections is likely to be the economy. Now consider these statistics. In the last six years, the decline in tourism has cost the USA $94 billion in lost tourist spending, 200,000 jobs; and $16 billion in tax revenues. So why isn’t America any more the destination of choice for travelers around the world? Let me put it this way. If you paid a visit to someone’s home; and your host treated you like a pariah, someone to be reluctantly tolerated, would you want to go again? And I’m not talking about just talking about Arabs or Muslims, who are invariably subjected to racial profiling when they enter the United States. Japanese visitors have decreased by one and a half million in the past year alone. Even the original WASPs from Britain, with names like Smith and Jones, now prefer other destinations. And why shouldn’t they? Consider these real life situations. Earlier this fall, a tourist from New Zealand inadvertently overstayed his visa by a few days. He was arrested and kept in jail for six weeks. Not only that, the immigration authorities did not bother to inform the New Zealand embassy, as required by treaty obligations. A German woman realized she had overstayed her visa by a couple of days. Realizing this and wanting to stay a little while longer, she approached the immigration department, like someone who did not wish to willingly break any rules. Instead, she was handcuffed and had her feet shackled – like a convicted felon – and led off to be imprisoned. She now faces deportation and a 10-year ban on entering the United States. I realize that the United States needs to be very concerned about security; and precautions, though a nuisance, are essential. But what happened to the civilized tenet of the punishment fitting the crime? Can you imagine the humiliation and trauma suffered by that German woman – an ordinary, respectable citizen – when she found herself in chains? Ask yourself how you would feel in a similar situation? And for what – making an honest mistake and trying to rectify it? And all this, while millions of illegal immigrants slip across the border every year. I have traveled to the US several times and I know first hand what tourists, like me, experience even before we get out of the airport. The long immigration counter lines, moving at snail speed, are a hassle most of are grudgingly prepared to bear with. What is particularly galling is the suspicion – sometimes bordering on contempt – writ large upon the face of the officer examining your passport. He obviously goes by the presumption that you are guilty, until proved innocent. Sure, security is important, but the US is not the only country in the world under threat. So how is it that tourists visiting most other countries – including those in Europe – receive a much warmer welcome? Perhaps they are savvy enough to understand that tourist dollars and Euros spent in their country are an important asset to their economy – not to mention that thousands of jobs are almost totally dependant on the tourism industry. My personal take on this issue is that it takes specialized training in

personality profiling to spot a potential terrorist. Most of the guys manning immigration counters are basically policemen. They don’t really know how to spot the genuine bad guys; and so they suspect everyone. The thought that they are providing visitors with a negative image of their fellow citizens probably does not even occur to them. If Peter Paul and Mary were to rewrite one of their biggest hits, it would probably go, “This land is my land, this land is not your land”.