I was so frustrated I wanted to scream. For three weeks I had been trying to get a visa to visit Nigeria and for three weeks they had been stone walling me. You see they wanted an actual copy of my bank account records. Now anyone who’s ever used the Internet knows that Nigeria is a hotbed for financial fraudsters. How many of you have gotten that e-mail asking for you to send them your bank account number so you could receive millions of dollars. President Clinton’s daughter’s future father-in-law even fell for it. In Nigeria they call it “419.” A 419 is a scam.
I wasn’t about to be 419’d by the Nigerian Embassy in New York. So I called them up and relayed my reservations about providing a copy of my bank statement to them. You know what he said to me? “Well, ma’am,” he said, “That’s what is required to visit our country. No bank statement, no visa.” And that was it. Around the world every country has certain expectations that visitors who come to their country will abide by certain rules, no matter how inconvenient they may be. So when I heard the uproar over Arizona’s new immigration law I smiled. I could only image that the opponents to the provision of the law that states police have the right to ask for people’s lawful identification have never traveled to Nigeria.
Global Travelers Always Have Their Papers
In the last six years I’ve traveled to five continents and more than 30 cities and believe you me I had my papers on me at all times. And it didn’t matter when I went to Africa; just because my skin was the same color didn’t make me a citizen. I was especially singled out when I flew to northern Nigeria. A Muslim enclave in Africa’s most populous country, northern Nigeria is a place where strangers are quickly pointed out. There is no blending in. As soon as I got off the airplane my western dress, language and broad smile gave me away. I remember walking through the airport to look for a taxi driver and being stopped by two armed military guards. They lead me to a small room just outside the airport security area where they demanded to see my papers. After painstakingly writing down everything there was to know from my passport they preceded to ask me where I was staying, why I was visiting and who was I there to see. They told me that it was for my own protection – just in case a riot happened in the middle of the night and they needed to make sure the American tourist was O.K. But the whole ordeal didn’t phase me one bit. After traveling around the world I am pretty use to showing my papers whenever I go somewhere else.
American Citizens Are Free Until They Travel Abroad
People in America disdain racial profiling because of its ugly history in this racially divided country. The alarmists remember the days when being black was the only criteria used to arrest, convict and punish people for crimes. There was a time in this country where acting as a free black man could get you killed. So it’s understandable that when someone starts talking about arresting and jailing people because of the color of their skin or their country of origin people get a little edgy. We do not want to return to the days of Jim Crow and people hanging from trees because of their skin color. But around the world racial profiling, or more exact ethnic profiling does exist. Don’t believe me? Try being an American tourist in Nigeria? Suddenly you and your driver will be paying “extra fees,” and doling out fistful of Nira to all sorts of officials – police, airport security, traffic cops. They have profiled you. They know you are America and they want their share of your independence inheritance. You can take offense and complain to the ACLU but it won’t do you any good. You are a foreigner in a foreign country and as such you need to abide by their rules. And if you think that Nigerian cop stopped your taxi cab because of routine you’re either naive or well, you know. When you travel to another country if they demand that you show them your passport, papers, even bank statements you must comply or put simply don’t go.
America’s Immigration Duality
On the surface requiring foreigners to carry papers with them at all times is not an outrageous request. But like everything in America there is a parallel universe. There is the rhetoric we espouse as a country and their is the reality we display. The Constitution promised freedom to all men save the 3/5th man that was a black person. You know the drill. So we say we want to protect our borders against illegal immigrants who are criminals yet we allow Marta and Mario to clean our houses, do our lawns and wash dishes in our restaurants and we of course never ask for their papers. The federal government has refused to address the problem of Mexico supporting its economy by sending its citizens to work in our country. They won’t do anything about illegal immigration so Arizona has forced its hand. I believe the law in Arizona is a little mean-spirited and fueled by some baseless fear. But I understand that fear because I’ve been in an area where foreigners pose a fatal threat. Until the feds act on immigration we’ll get more laws like Arizona. And until then, I’ll keep my passport on me.