Out, Damned Loophole!

Do you remember those school exercises in which you look at the same news events through the coverage of two or more different newspapers, to show how devices such as placement, framing and choice of words make a big difference in the overall effect of the story? It’s an old-school method but a good one, and for any teachers out there looking for material, a story in today’s New York Times that has gotten picked up in a number of other papers offers a fine case study. Let’s read it together, shall we? The headline is: U.S. Seeks Closing of Visa Loophole for Britons. We begin with the statement of the problem:

LONDON, May 1 — Omar Khyam, the ringleader of the thwarted London bomb plot who was sentenced to life imprisonment on Monday, showed the potential for disaffected young men to be lured as terrorists, a threat that British officials said they would have to contend with for a generation.

But the 25-year-old Mr. Khyam, a Briton of Pakistani descent, also personifies a larger and more immediate concern: as a British citizen, he could have entered the United States without a visa, like many of an estimated 800,000 other Britons of Pakistani origin.

The next graf is where the action is. In two tight sentences, it provides the scoop (Chertoff’s recent talks) and describes the problem as a “loophole,” a framing that, as you can see, percolated up to the headline, and thence to other papers, Google News links, and so on.

American officials, citing the number of terror plots in Britain involving Britons with ties to Pakistan, expressed concern over the visa loophole. In recent months, the homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, has opened talks with the government here on how to curb the access of British citizens of Pakistani origin to the United States.

We proceed now to some analysis. The article plainly suggests that the reason Britain is resisting Chertoff’s proposals is that accepting them would be damaging to the governing Labour Party. Don’t take my word for it:

At the moment, the British are resistant, fearing that restrictions on the group of Britons would incur a backlash from a population that has always sided with the Labor Party. The Americans say they are hesitant to push too hard and embarrass their staunch ally in the Iraq war, Prime Minister Tony Blair, as he prepares to step down from office.

Let’s pause here and take a look at a British item on the same story. So far only the Guardian has picked it up (it will be interesting to see how the other broadsheets and tabloids cover if and when they do), so we’ll go with that. The headline is: “US ‘wants British Pakistanis to have entry visas.’” The first four grafs are as follows:

The American government wants to impose travel restrictions on British citizens of Pakistani origin because of concerns about terrorism, according to a report today.

In talks with the British government, the US homeland security secretary, Michael Chertoff, called for British Pakistanis to apply for a visa before travelling to the US, according to the New York Times.

The newspaper claimed that US officials were concerned about the number of terrorist plots in Britain involving citizens with ties to Pakistan.

It is understood that the British government is resisting any attempts to single out particular ethnic groups for travel restrictions. The Foreign Office has yet to comment on the report.

That’s the core of the comparison. The New York Times story then moves of to a recap of the Khyam trial, which has little to do with the United States per se — Khyam was sentenced for a UK plot and much of the evidence comes from his actions in travel back and forth between the UK and Pakistan. The Guardian story sticks to the headline topic and ends quickly.

Of course there’s a whole political and legal analysis to be done here about the very idea of corralling off an ethnically identified subset of citizens of a given country for the imposition of special travel restrictions. I would venture that the idea is absurd, sinister and unworkable, a bad-policy trifecta; but hey, what do I know. I do know, however, that describing the ability of UK citizens of a particular ethnic origin to enter the US on the same terms as other UK citizens a “loophole” is, wittingly or not, an appeal to prejudice and an insult to intelligence.

[UPDATE: The UK Foreign Office, and, somewhat less forcefully, the US government, repudiate the New York Times story.]

161 thoughts on “Out, Damned Loophole!

  1. The visa waiver policy was not created for brown people in the U.S. and UK.

    Come to think of it, neither was the Geneva Convention.

  2. Hiding behind officialese or matter of fact reporting is not going to cover up what they are really up to.

  3. AMJD they more then likely may have been kneejerk xenophobes, but the doesn’t change the fact that immigrants from Pakistan are causing more problems then those are from India in England. It may not be a PC thing to say but that is the truth. Some leader of the sikh and hindu groups in England want to be known as British Sikh’s and British Hindu’s instead of South Asian.

    Did I ever contest the fact that Pakistani Brits are more likely to be a part of the global salafist terror networks than India Brits?

    You have created a PC strawman, then attributed that strawman to me and now you have hopped on to your bulldozer to crush the strawman.

    I took issue with your implicit characterization of people who protested the South Asian immigration in the 50s/60s as some sort of visionaries who are now proven to be right. No, they have not been proved right. They were not right because the current problems were not the reasons they were opposing the South Asian immigration in the 50s/60s. They were also dead wrong about opposing immigration from India and other countries.

    If you want to look at them through longing eyes as wise old men, please go ahead and do that.

  4. The visa waiver policy was not created for brown people in the U.S. and UK.

    What difference does that make? The fact is, the visa waiver is currently race-neutral, and to maintain equity, it would have to continue to be that way. In other words, if the US government is so considered about brown UK types falling through the cracks, then the only way to ensure it doesn’t happen is to jettison the whole visa waiver program.

    I don’t think it’s very constructive to concern ourselves with any alleged nefarious intent the original visa waiver policy may have had. The fact is, as of this moment, the waiver applies to all citizens of the UK, including the brown ones.

  5. This may be a little off topic. But AMJD what kind of immigration policy do you think country in Western Europe should have. Last time I checked the anti-immigration movement in Western Europe has started to grow the last 10 years. So who do you blame for this?

  6. but is pretty fucked up if you look at the context of how folks were treated, British race/poverty/education/migreation policy, the nature of British “integration” policies, and the strong level of alienation that exists primarily among Bangladeshi Muslims and then Pakistani Muslims.

    Camille, are you saying that Muslims were treated differently than Sikhs and Hindus, and THAT explains their greater alienation in the UK? Because I’d be much more likely to pin it on cultural, religious, and attitudinal differences that the Pakistanis and Bangladeshis had from the beginning.

  7. RC said…

    Nation states are a relatively new phenomenon. - I would say about less than 300 years. - I am not sure that Nation State concept has peaked, but it is definately been chalanged big time due to globalization. - Pre-Nation states era was also the era when human movement was severely restricted. - Human tribal need to belong to a group is basic in my opinion and will remain so, but with EASE of MOVEMENT dwelling amongst your tribesmen may not remain as important as it has been in past. - One last point, the EASE of MOVEMENT has a long way to go in terms of development as true EASE of MOVEMENT (and Globalization) came after the creation of the JUMBO JET in 70′s. So it has a lot more room to improve and as it improves it will put further stress on traditional nation state.

    I agree with all of what you said. I have a little more to add on similar lines…

    In the far future, the concept of nation state will end up being a primitive idea of sorts. I believe that in about 500 years or so. At least, I dont think the distinctions will be anywhere near as solid as they are today. As much as, or even more so than the jumbo jet, the internet is a great equalizer. I think it will have an effect on a similar scale to the invention of the printing press, whose level of importance in terms of the social political and scientific changes experienced, it is said, is rivaled by few other inventions. The internet has been popular for probably not much more than a decade now(not even a generation), and I expect there will be very fundamental changes to the human society due to this unparalleled ease of communication and information, one of which, could very well be the dissolution/rendering irrelevance to the organization of the world in terms of distinct countries and such.

  8. The statement that immigrants from Pakistan cause more problems may seem on its face to be accurate, but is pretty fucked up if you look at the context of how folks were treated, British race/poverty/education/migreation policy, the nature of British “integration” policies, and the strong level of alienation that exists primarily among Bangladeshi Muslims and then Pakistani Muslims.

    Camille:

    If you look to your right, you’ll see Michael Chertoff is your strange bedfelllow:

    The United States fears that the next September 11-style attack on America could be launched by Muslims from Britain or Europe who feel “second-class citizens” and alienated by a “colonial legacy”, according to the US Homeland Security chief. Our Muslim population is better educated and economically better off than the average American. So, from a standpoint of mobility in society, it’s a successful immigrant population. To some degree, the whole country is a country of immigrants, and therefore there’s no sense that we have insiders or outsiders. In some countries [in Europe], you had an influx of people that came in as a colonial legacy and may have always have felt, to some extent, that they were viewed as second-class citizens, and they’ve tended to impact and be kind of clustered in some areas.”
  9. If the visa waiver program should go away, then it should be without reference to race or ethnicity, i.e. a blanket withdrawal for all British passport holders.
    Exactly.

    nope not going to happen. the most that will happen is a clause like “people born in south asia are not eligible for the waiver program” or variation that includes “origins in south asia”. that makes it better—you are targetting non muslims as well (in fact more), so it is not a religion thing. or “non uk-born people”, but the collateral damage may not be acceptable.

    or a pressure on the uk to restrict immigration, which seems much more likely. or a policy to track the “unwanteds” on US shores. some combination thereof.

  10. the most that will happen is a clause like “people born in south asia are not eligible for the waiver program”

    See, I don’t think it’s really possible for the US to do that with respect to the visa waiver program. The way the program is currently set up, the citizens of certain countries have access the waiver, and the US cannot further put conditions on the sort of citizenship awarded by other countries.

    At most, as a result of this sort of thinking, the UK may be forced to flag some of their non-UK born citizens as “special”, which may be sufficient to allow the US to suspend the waiver program with respect to those “special” individuals.

    Such changes would be political suicide for whichever administration pushes them through, IMO…particularly in the UK. That’s why it won’t happen. The only options are either to maintain the status quo, or eliminate all visa waivers.

  11. I think the U.S. should do something about them. Because no matter what, they alway have a loyalty to Islam and Pakistan. So U.S. should be strict with them. Even in a country like Nepal the muslim population is growing and is now 7 percent. With those people pouring from Bangladesh I see religious trouble in the future for they are so different from the rest of the Nepalis. You go to their country and they are nasty to you when they know you are not muslim and make you wear that nasty burka; but Nepalis are stupid and tolerate them. We let one Pkistani guy as a roomate in the U. S., he was the most fanatical and opiniated person I ever saw. We had to throw him out eventually because he was so nasty.