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Passport Purgatory!

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With all the terrorist threats from within and without, it is somewhat ironic to me that I, a taxpaying citizen born in the United States with no criminal record or even a traffic ticket to my name, would encounter significant snafus when trying to get a passport to travel to Amsterdam this month for a vacation.

I’d planned the trip several months before, but shortly after submitting my passport application on April 17, I decided to postpone my May 14 trip indefinitely since I’d just spent a bundle moving to my new coop — plus which my boyfriend had balked at going in the first place. It turned out to be a wise move on my part.

Granted, I should have applied earlier, but supposedly if one paid extra for rush service, one could obtain a passport in about two weeks' time. I had an old passport which I’d received without incident years ago for my first and, thus far, last trip abroad to England, but it was still packed away somewhere — who knows where — and was likely expired in any case. So I went to the post office, submitted the required forms and documents, and waited for my passport to arrive via prepaid express mail within about two weeks.

A fortnight later, on May 1, I received a call from the National Passport Center in New Hampshire which was processing my application. A woman informed me that the ID I’d submitted was not sufficient to establish my identity. I’d provided a New York State non-driver’s ID, which I thought was identical for all intents and purposes to a regular driver’s license. I’d certainly gone through hell to procure it a few years ago — having been compelled to do so after my bank insisted that it was now needed to open an account or withdraw funds — due, of course, to post-9/11 precautions. It had served me well since I’d obtained it, and I assumed it was as good as gold as far as establishing that I was, indeed, who I purported to be. Granted, the photo was horrible, but better mortified than stuck at the bank with no cash with a dumb look on my non-identifiable face.

The postal worker who processed my form two weeks before had enclosed a photocopy of my New York State ID along with an original copy of my birth certificate (which she assured me would be returned when I received my new passport) and sent my application out via express mail.

In any case, the woman on the phone this fine May morning informed me that I needed to submit five more forms of ID with my signature or photo, and rattled off many possible examples of same. When I asked why my ID was not sufficient, she said she didn’t know — that was something the passport analyst determined. She said that a letter with full details would be sent out to me, but had no more information as to why I’d been “singled out” for this special scrutiny.

Later that day, I began to get a funny feeling that maybe this had been a phony call. It just didn’t make any sense to me, since I’d heard and read nothing about extra ID being required for a passport. When I checked the US Department of State’s website, I could find nothing to that effect. Furthermore, many of the links which were provided for more information did not work — at least not on my computer on that evening. I suspected that many other fellow citizens anxious to finalize their vacation plans abroad had been jamming up the site; perhaps, I thought, it was simply overloaded with inquiries.

I had caller ID, so I checked the number the woman had called from that morning and called it back. I got a message saying this was a nonworking number, and to check the number and dial again. The message did identify the number as the New Hampshire Passport and Visa Center.

There was a central number I'd received when I applied for my passport to check on one’s application status, but of course due in part to an incredible number of applications this year and this season, I couldn’t get through that night. Everyone and their uncle, cousin, and half-brother’s dog was trying to do the same thing, and after going through all sorts of automated options, endless recorded entreaties to use the website, assurances that extra staff were working virtually nonstop to process applications, and finally being put on hold to talk to the next available agent, the service eventually just hung up on me after two attempts to get through.

Still imagining the worst, I starting searching the web for info on identity theft. I even called the local precinct. The more I thought about it, the more I suspected foul play. Bad enough I’d had to submit my original birth certificate along with my application, but now it seemed like someone was intent on getting enough ID to take over my identity. I thought perhaps the postal worker who took my application was involved in some elaborate mail fraud scheme, and planned to call the Bronx postmaster first thing next morning for good measure.

Overreacting? Perhaps, but it’s funny how many things can look suspicious in the wee hours — especially in an era when unscrupulous thieves can steal not just your money but your identity itself, while nefarious “homegrown” but foreign born terrorists posed as ordinary citizens while plotting to kill American servicemen and women in the name of jihad at Fort Dix as I waited on perpetual hold that night.

As luck and better timing would have it, I called the passport information number again early the next morning and actually got through to a human being. To my relief, I found out that this was indeed a legitimate request, and quite routine at that. I asked the undoubtedly harried woman who took my call why nothing I’d seen online or off had indicated anything about additional ID being needed. I also wondered why my non-driver’s license State ID was not acceptable. I pointed out that this system was making more work for her, me, and everyone else who got stuck in this potentially nail-biting situation. She was sympathetic, but did assure me that the request was legit. As for the non-working number message from the New Hampshire center, she said undoubtedly that was due to the fact that everyone would be calling there nonstop if they had access to it.

I got my letter from the National Passport Center in Portsmouth, New Hampshire via “express” mail on May 4. It provided a brief list of some of the documents I could submit in photocopy form to help established my identity. Required were at least five personal documents with either name/photo (and issue date) or name/signature (with issue date.)

But that wasn’t all. Though no one had told me about this additional little wrinkle, also enclosed was a three page “Supplemental Information Sheet” which asked for:

  • The name, address, phone number, and date and place of birth of my mother, father, and all brothers and sisters and spouse (if married);
  • Names, addresses, and phone numbers of two references who had known me at least five years;
  • The name, address, and attendance dates of all schools I had attended in the US and abroad;
  • Complete addresses for all my residences for the last ten years;
  • The name, address, and phone number, with supervisor’s name, for all employers for the last ten years.

And finally, for applicants not born in the US, there were two additional lines provided to list when and where they first arrived in the United States. This seemed rather “underwhelming” to me, somehow. I could have thought of a lot more incisive and detailed questions to ask of visitors leaving our country in this day and age in light of the fact that I was being put through quite the wringer myself for the privilege of visiting the Van Gogh museum and perhaps taking in a few windmills.

After all, it wasn’t as if I was applying for a new job or another coop; I just wanted to visit a nice, peaceful city in the Netherlands for two weeks when the tulips were in bloom, and possibly see some West End plays in London if I decided to stay an additional week or two.

My conclusion? This little incident seemed just another example of my firmly held belief that the world has gone completely crazy in general, and that our security priorities are decidedly topsy-turvy in particular. Not only do I feel unsafe living in post-9/11 New York, USA, due to national security threats both internal and external, but in addition to having to be vigilant against the specter of identity theft, I can’t count on my own government to even establish my identity in the first place.

In fact, it’s not hard to imagine just how easy it could be for someone to steal my identity and be off to Amsterdam on my dime in less than a week’s time while I’d still be stuck here in identity limbo. It certainly seems like a piece of cake compared to obtaining a passport from my own government — while a pizza delivery man with murder on his mind obtains access to one of our nation's strongholds with no trouble at all.

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About Elvira Black

  • http://www.lorimortimer.com/blog lori

    I guess it would have been easier to dig up the old passport after all, huh?

    Those new requirements are ridiculous. Who can pull up the name and all other info for employers and *supervisors* over the past ten years? WTF?

    I’m sure somebody will say that this experience illustrates that we need a national ID card. And I say it illustrates, instead, that the government can’t handle the responsibility of such a card.

    Good luck getting your passport!

  • http://www.noface4film.com/ Kaonashi

    Holy crap, that’s a whole lot to ask for a passport. I don’t recall having to jump through that many hoops five years ago when I obtained mine.

    Then again, every application these days requires a lot of red tape. It’s hellish trying to get a permit for street parking in Pasadena, CA (our apartment only allows parking for one person, and both my bf and I have a car) even if it’s a renewal.

  • Dr Dreadful

    My goodness… My friend applied for a US passport for the first time in her life about a year and a half ago, and it came through without any trouble.

    I wonder if it’s anything to do with the new electronic chips they’re going to start putting in new passports. I can see how that would up the cost of producing and printing them… maybe they’ve made the requirements more stringent so as to allow for more excuses not to issue a passport.

    Then again, how much more is it going to cost to fart around with all that extra paperwork and background checking?

  • http://www.myspace.com/tequila_d_amour gette

    Good god! ***FIVE*** additional pieces of identification?… Must be all those B/C blogs… ;-)

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    You forgot to mention that they recently increased the fee for an ‘expedited’ application to around $200 – which is pretty insane.

    BTW, can you give examples of what kinds of additional ID they wanted? Did they want copies of utility bills and stuff like that, or affadvits or credit cards or what?

    Dave

  • Dr Dreadful

    Frankly, it sounds like the list of stuff I had to come up with when I was applying for permanent residence here. It’s as if, having made it as difficult as possible to get into the United States (legally, anyway), Uncle Sam wants to make it even harder to get out!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira,

    I do not remember what kind of paperwork i had to fill in in 1999 to get a passport, but on none of them was my religion specified. Do any of the items/forms/questionnaires, etc specify religion?

    I would bear in mind that the ability to control ingress or egress from a country is the hallmark of the dictatorship – and there is no doubt that your nation is merrily headed in that direction. Don’t believe me?

    Go check and see how many casualties there were from the Greensburg KS tornado. The first few reports mentioned some numbers. NOW, go find some numbers. If you can’t, you’re seeing a dictatorship at work.

    I’ve been consistently warned in the past couple of years that the US government would be targeting Jews. When my friend Aryeh Gallin was at Kennedy Airport on his return from visiting his parents, his parents looked at two cops/soldiers in full battle dress carrying M16’s, wondering what they were doing there. Aryeh, noticing the customs folks at the booth noticed their sharp BLACK uniforms – as though they had been pulled out of a Nazi’s uniform closet.

    Just something to think about. Boy, your country has changed. I’m real glad I got the hell out.

    By the way, how come nobody has been writing about the destructive storms that have hit the east coast – particularly Westchester?

    I’ll forward your article to others to see what they think might be going on.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Many thanks to all who have commented—I will answer in more depth later.

    In the interest of fairness, I must admit I did three stupid things:

    I planned a trip when I was still in the middle of getting a new place;

    I misplaced my old passport;

    and

    I waited til the last minute to apply.

    Looking again at the US passport website which explains the application procedure, it does appear as if a driver’s license is required, and as I now know, a non-driver’s ID just doesn’t cut it.

    Would have helped if the postal worker who processed it had told me my ID was not sufficient, however…

    But still and all…what about the questionnaire? That’s really bizarre.

    I had a terrible passport picture taken; maybe they got frightened by that (lol)…

    More later…

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Lori (#1)

    Yes, I wish I had submitted my old passport, but with all the frenzy of moving, I didn’t have time to look for it in order to submit the application in time. Dumb move…

    I checked the passport website, and they are even more swamped because of the incredible volume of applications and inquiries. I can’t help but wonder how many other folks might have been requested to submit additional documents a week or two before their scheduled trip….

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Kaonashi (#2):

    I can understand that after 9/11 there might be more red tape involved in any kind of applications and documents, but that didn’t seem to kick in right away. My bank didn’t require NY State ID right after 9/11; it was 2003 before I had any problems. I wanted to open a new passbook savings account to replace my old statement savings, and needed the NY State ID to do so, though I had other photo ID and had banked there for years. But in addition, the bank started requiring the state ID to withdraw funds. This seems prudent especially when the teller doesn’t know you, but why the delay?

    Plus which, getting that ID was hellacious. I had to submit a number of forms of ID, some of which I had to apply for, so the whole process took quite awhile. That’s why I thought that it would be the equivalent of a driver’s license. It certainly is good enough for my bank….

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Dr. Dreadful (#3):

    Perhaps the question is: did your friend have a driver’s license? That seems to be the magic ticket; I guess I’m being punished for not polluting the environment…

    In the interests of full disclosure, I went back and downloaded the application again, and here’s what it says about proof of identity requirements:

    PROOF OF IDENTITY You must establish your identity to the satisfaction of the acceptance agent. You may submit items such as the following containing your signature AND physical description or photograph that is a good likeness of you: previous U.S. passport, Certificate of Naturalization, Certificate of Citizenship, driver’s license (not temporary or learner’s license), or government (Federal, State, municipal) employee identification card or pass. Temporary or altered documents are not acceptable. When necessary, we may ask you to provide additional evidence to establish your identity.

    IF YOU CANNOT PROVIDE DOCUMENT EVIDENCE OF IDENTITY as stated above, you must appear with an IDENTIFYING WITNESS who is a U.S. citizen, non U.S. citizen national, or permanent resident alien who has known you for at least 2 years. Your witness must prove his or her identity and complete and sign an Affidavit of Identifying Witness (Form DS-71) before the acceptance agent. You must also submit some identification of your own.

    I guess that line about “we” may ask for additional evidence applies to the passport agency rather than the agent who processes the application, though it never occurred to me at the time.

    Also, the fact that having a witness vouch for you is ok while my photo ID was not good enough seems a bit strange, no?

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Gette (#4):

    Though it seems unlikely that my blogging would affect anything, the thought had crossed my mind…my boyfriend is always telling me not to “make waves” by writing anything about the government, the military, etc. But I write under a pseudnym (though of course my real identity could be easily traced, I’m sure), and none of what I write about is unduly “militant”–just good old American questioning of the status quo kind of stuff.

    But all I can say is, if we’ve reached a point where we have to worry one iota about whether what we write about will compromise our ability to get a passport, that’s scary.

  • STM

    They are now using biometric info on the passports. This is the chip Doc Dred is talking about. However, it should only contain photo recognition info as a back up for the pic on your passport. And any non-US citizen entering the US visa-free now has to have a machine-readable passport.

    Otherwise, you must have a visa.

    I believe you also will also be refused entry to the US unless you consent to having your fingerprints/digital photo taken.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Dave (#5):

    The form I received gave some examples, but was not comprehensive. They wanted copies of “personal documents and public records that have been issued over a period of time. Documents that include your photograph, signature and/or physical description are particularly helpful.”

    Examples included:

    Records with photograph (valid or expired):
    Driver’s license; school yearbook photo with name and photo, also with school’s name and year that it was issued; U.S. passports; newspaper/magazine articles (with your photo and name, newspaper’s name and date);

    Records with either photograph or signature (must have a date):
    Employment identification card; professional license (ex. nurse, pilot, mechanic, etc); federal, state or municipal identification card; miliary identification; student identification card;

    Signed Identification items (should have your legal signature and date):
    Military records such as DD-214; selective service registration card; union membership (bearing name/signature or name/photo and issuance date); medicare/health insurance card; welfare card; marriage certificate; medical records; voter’s registration card; children’s birth certificates; social security card; traffic ticket;

    If you were raised abroad you may also submit: *
    Original foreign school records with name, photo, and date; original foreign passports; copy of foreign driver’s license (valid or expired); foreign government issued identification, such as voter’s registration cards or national identification cards.

    *If in a language other than English, please provide an official translation.

    The woman I talked to originally gave more examples, I think; may have included leases or deeds and so forth.

    That’s the reason I became so paranoid after getting that initial call; it seemed like the perfect recipe for identity theft.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Dr. Dreadful (#6)

    It does seem a bit curious that a US citizen should go through such hoops to get OUT of the country for a few weeks or so.

    Thing is, I can see the logic in a way, but it might be helpful if this were spelled out more clearly from the beginning. My first reaction was: why am I being singled out for this, when it seems to be so easy for terrorists to enter our country? If my ID was not sufficient, why not spell this out on the form or tell the passport agent not to accept it? Is it up to the discretion of the passport agency, and if so, what criteria do they use? Was it because I misplaced my old passport (though I definitely have it)? What gives?

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Ruvy (#7):

    None of the forms specified religion, though the application itself did ask for info on one’s mother and father–I believe this included date/place of birth. My last name is very goyish, but my mother’s was not, so I suppose one might be able to infer something from that.

    My boyfriend took a trip about 6 months ago to visit his parents in Ohio, and he “vowed” never to get on a plane again due to the hassles. My ex boyfriend got strip searched several years ago before boarding a plane from NYC to, I think, Pennsylvania for a business trip.

    Thanks for sending my piece to others for feedback…I’d be interested to hear what they might have to say.

    As far as the storms in Westchester etc–they were still pretty “minor” compared with what happened in Kansas. I’ll check out the Kansas reports you mentioned. One thing about the NY metro area is that even our “severe” weather is usually nothing much compared to what happens elsewhere in the country. It’s the terrorists I’m worried about rather than Mother Nature in these parts.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Stan (#13)

    In addition to the biochip thing, US residents are or will be required to get passports to visit countries where one didn’t used to need one–I think Mexico and some others.

    It’s a little scary…I mean, maybe necessary in this day and age, but still…

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    OK, this is a bit creepy:

    I’ve tried several times to publish a reply to comment #7, but it didn’t go through. My reply to Stan, however, went through with no hitch. I’m gonna try one more time now…

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Elvira wrote:

    In addition to the biochip thing, US residents are or will be required to get passports to visit countries where one didn’t used to need one–I think Mexico and some others.

    That’s correct. Now included (since January 2007) , are Canada and all the Caribbean nations and, in the Atlantic: the Bahamas and Bermuda. This new regulation was mandated by DHS as a security measure.

    Small technical point: the passport isn’t required to visit those nations: the US can’t mandate that, they’re sovereign nations; but it IS required to return to the US from visiting those countries.

  • STM

    Clav: I don’t like the idea giving the government or any other bugger a digital image of my head for its records, or a set of fingos. I know that’s what needs to happen now, but personal freedoms are personal freedoms and it’s a sick world that means it’s come to that. Getting your biometric info whacked on government agency computer banks for posterity is a little creepy, in my view. I don’t trust all the Indian companies storing our personal and credit-card details, either.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Stan,

    Couldn’t agree with you more, mate. I’m VERY concerned that the feds here are pushing for a “national ID card”, which at this stage is just a move to make all states’ drivers licenses uniform, but there are people in the government who would like to have the feds issuing an ID that WILL include all kinds of biometric (and other) information.

    Also, dogooders in this country are pushing for a medical ID card that would include even genetic info, the idea being that medical personnel could easily access your history when needed. Can you imagine what health insurance companies or potential employers, or auto and life insurance companies could do if they got their hands on that little gem?

    On 9/12/01, I told everyone who would listen to me that henceforth we would have to be VERY careful in treading the fine line between keeping ourselves secure and losing a significant portion of our freedoms.

    The future is here, it seems.

  • STM

    In 1983, I travelled to the Soviet Union as a guest of the Soviet government to write some stories. Before leaving Australia, I had to submit separate photographs of certain dimensions to the Soviet embassy in Sydney, one of which was then attached to a special detachable visa (kept by the russians upon leaving) contained in my passport.

    The visa was in Russian, of course. There was no problem entering the country, but at the border upon leaving the Soviet Union, I was stopped and held by armed border guards who believed that I looked different both to the visa photograph and the photo provided to the Soviet government (which is probably still on file somewhere and gathering dust in the bowels of the old KGB headquarters at Dzerzhinsky Square, along with Nalle’s – which doubtless came in for even more scrupulous attention).

    What ensued was many hours of arguing with the KGB in a bid to convince them that I was actually me, and not a) a British/Australian/American spy or b) some poor bastard trying to escape the Soviet Union. They questioned me at length about my activities in the Soviet Union. When I told them that it mostly involved getting drunk at the late-night bar in the Leningrad railway station and eating horse, they weren’t impressed.

    As the bearer of a multiple-entry visia for the US, one of the things they wanted to know about were my trips to the United States, which were detailed in my passport. The flip side: every time I entered the US, I had to declare that I had visited the Soviet Union. But at the time of asking in Moscow, I was remembering the immigration people in the US and how nice they were compared to the Russkis!

    Now, sadly, that kind of stuff is currently happening to people going in and out of the US. People who are on legitimate business or holidays are being stopped at the border, held for questioning, turned around, etc.

    It’s scary. One of my mates was refused entry. He’s an Aussie journalist who grew up in inner-city South Sydney (about as tough as it gets, and as Australian as it gets) but has an Arab surname, so he got profiled and held in custody.

    Finally, after becoming increasingly frustrated and giving the immigration people a gobful of ripe Aussie invective, they must have been convinced of his nationality – left in no doubt, I’d say – and let him in with strict visa conditions.

    However, his was not an isolated incident – and Australia is one of the countries included on the visa-waiver list. God knows what it’d be like if you were from one of the countries whose citizens need a visa to enter.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    As you may remember, I spent thirty years in the international airline business, working for foreign (i.e., non-US) carriers, including a stint in the nineties operating direct charter flights 3X week between Miami and various points in Cuba.

    As a result, I’m well familiar with how the US authorities behave with foreign nationals entering the US, even much before 9/11.

    They were often very difficult, not only with my passengers, but with me, as foreign carrier manager as well, and as I said, long before 9/11.

    This is why I worry about the whole DHS/Patriot Act phenomenon; there’s nothing like a government bureaucrat with a little power and a Napoleon complex for being an asshole and making your life miserable.

  • Dr Dreadful

    there’s nothing like a government bureaucrat with a little power and a Napoleon complex for being an asshole and making your life miserable.

    Nail on the head, Clav. “You must establish your identity to the satisfaction of the acceptance agent.” [my emphasis] I suspect that Elvira, driver’s license or not, had the bad luck to have one of those little Napoleons pick up her application. S/he probably wouldn’t have been satisfied if she’d provided signed and notarized testimonials from President Bush, the Queen of England and the Pope.

  • Dr Dreadful

    I was remembering the immigration people in the US and how nice they were compared to the Russkis!

    Don’t be too hard on those jolly old Soviets, Stan. Being miserable bastards seems to be a malaise of immigration staff the world over. Even when I arrived in Fiji and was greeted by a passport control official with a face longer than a Congressional filibuster. I mean, come on… Fiji?!? (To be fair to the guy, it was 5.15 a.m.)

    In the US, the immigration people tend to be not so much miserable as cynical and superior. The impression of rudeness and hostility the visitor is left with is much the same.

    You’ll be pleased to hear that the one shining, outstanding exception to this rule, in my experience, has been Australia. The immigration staff at Sydney Airport are the nicest, most professional, most welcoming of any port of entry anywhere. And you can tell them that from me the next time you meet one!

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira,

    This was received by e-mail this evening. Sergio Tezza is an historian, linguist and translator, as well as an observant Jew. Generally, he tracks my views on things. Not here. Quoting my comments, he writes,

    “When you are a Jew, a little paranoia always helps.

    The following article is written by Elvira Black, a Jewish woman who writes for Blog Critics Magazine and who lives in the Bronx. This article appeared yesterday, (10 May, 2007).

    Passport Purgatory!
    Written by Elvira Black […]”

    Shalom Reuven and the rest!

    I had the opposite experience in 2003 and in 2004. I found myself stuck in Madrid in the summer of 2003 – on a transit flight to JFK – without having realised that my US Passport had expired the previous month, since I had used my Israeli Passport to leave TLV.

    A wall of hostility and abuse of power met my calm and civilized protest directed to an OLD FASCIST (he had CERTAINLY been a policeman under Franco) “GUARDIA CIVIL” INSPECTOR THAT DID NOT WANT TO LET ME ON THE FLIGHT; I tried to explain that a US citizen can get into the country EVEN WITHOUT A DOCUMENT if he can prove his identity, and in fact I had gotten previously into the US with a US Driver License since I had left my US Passport at home, and that such was the LAW in the US.

    I called the US Embassy, where they confirmed that since I had a US Passport that had recently expired it would ABSOLUTELY NOT BE A PROBLEM. The fascist idiot, who HATED MY OBVIOUS LOOK of an observant Jew, could not care less, and even refused to talk to the Ambassador’s Secretary. So, the fascist moron proceeded to embark my family, who had no idea what was going on, and stopped me.

    At that point, I decided to switch languages and to show him that I spoke a more eloquent Spanish than he did (I even taught it for a while), and I proceeded to quote the articles of US Immigration Law that the Ambassador’s Secretary had told me a few moments before, and saying, looking into his eyes, that “este fascista de mierda va a pagar caro su jueguito, y va a dirigir el trafico en las calles de Madrid” (this shitty fascist is going to pay his little game very dearly, and he is going to direct traffic in the streets of Madrid”).
    By now he had realised that he was not dealing with the usual scared Jew… but with a Jew without fear in any language and on top of it a US Citizen protected by his country…

    So, I left the airport he tried not to let me out of the airport and send me back to TLV because I had no Spanish Visa on my Israeli Passport, and an expired US Passport is not enough to get into Spain.

    Little he knew that I was also carrying an Italian Passport that had expired 11 years before, but that the law said that he could not prevent my entrance into Spain, since I was a EU Citizen too.

    The fascist animal was GREEN WITH RAGE… Especially because at the Passport control, there was a German POLICE SUPERVISOR, who REALLY DISLIKED his Spanish colleague attitude towards me and told me: “This looks like an antisemite to me”, after asking me if I understood German and I said “a little”.

    Once I reached the US Embassy in Madrid, without appointment and barely before they closed to the public, I was let in, I filled a request for temporary passport, and within 45 minutes I had in my hands a brand new Passport valid for one year (the person in charge of Passports, came out to give it to me personally, and asked me, to my surprise, if I was an FBI Agent. When I said: “Why?”, she said: “I have been working here for many years, and NEVER anyone had gotten all the OKs from all the States in less than one hour. The person who got it in one hour was a CIA “employee” [here she winked]. You got it in half that time, which meant that the OK was given automatically by the computer system without any human intervention, which means that either you had no previous record, even traffic violations, in any of the 50 States, or that you are an FBI employee. I thought it would be rude to ask you if you had a clean record”. I told her that of course, given that I am broke and FBI agents around the world get paid pretty well… :-) the reason was “no previous record ANYWHERE”. I was the talk of the Embassy: all the clerks wanted to see this guy who got a new US Passport in 45 minutes. We had a real laugh and I even got some
    Coca-Cola for free… :-)

    A year later, I went to the US Consulate in Jerusalem to obtain a new US Passport. I zoomed by (kippah, peoth, gun and all) past the hundreds of Arabs waiting for a Visa whose looks could kill; I deposited my gun at the entrance, gave my pictures, the money and the request form to the American clerk, and I was told that I would receive the passport five to twelve days from that moment.

    It was a Monday or a Tuesday, I forgot, but NEXT SUNDAY MY NEW PASSPORT HAD ARRIVED TO MY JERUSALEM MAILING ADDRESS from the Baltimore Central Passport Office (The Central Passport Office where ALL the New DIGITALIZED US Passports come from, is in Baltimore, Maryland, NOT in New Hampshire). It had actually taken FIVE DAYS, including travel time, for the temporary passport to reach Baltimore, for them to issue a new one, cancel the old one and send both of them back to me… and I did not even pay for the express mail delivery option… :-) …and if you saw the picture my passport carries, you might believe that I belong to the “Mustard Chassidim”… :-), given the VERY LONG peoth and beard, the large techeleth kippah and a mustard colour Lacoste…

    In any case, believe me, once you have tried bureaucracy in MANY countries, you realize that the US is as close to Gan Eden as a Federal Republic can get, and I really believe that it is still the freest of all, in spite of Big Brother, the Military Industrial Complex, The Multinational Corporations, etc. And you realise also that it is the freest place for a Jew to live as a Jew, even if I chose to live right by our Forefathers Tombs. In the US no Jew would ever be arrested for praying!

    Shavu’a Tov!

    Sergio

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    I need to renew my passport this year, and of course, I haven’t done it since before 9/11. I can just imagine how the bureaucrats are going to react to my birth certificate in Arabic. Plus if they want more than one photo ID they’re out of luck. I haven’t had a job with a photo ID in 20 years, so they’ll have to be satisfied with my Texas DL.

    BTW, in my experience Russian border agents always hassle everyone for no particular reason. The country I’ve always found to be the most laid back in England, where I always get waved through by a thoroughly bored Paki.

    dave

  • STM

    “Even when I arrived in Fiji and was greeted by a passport control official with a face longer than a Congressional filibuster. I mean, come on… Fiji?!? (To be fair to the guy, it was 5.15 a.m.)”

    Lol. Bula …

    I’ve never seen so many smiling people in the one place, although it’s not always good. They even smile in Suva when they’re having a coup.

    But by and large, it’s pretty friendly. 200 years ago, though, they were eating white fellas – and loving it, I’m reliably informed.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Bula yourself. Yes, people seem to be pretty laid back about the persistent coups in Fiji. I think that those in the echelons of power there seem to be uncomfortable that South America doesn’t seem to have coups any more, and have decided that the title of ‘Coup Central’ needs to be inherited by the South Pacific.

    Those not in the echelons of power seem to have decided to more or less let them get on with it, on the grounds that it doesn’t seem to affect things much and keeps them amused.

    Yes, I’ve heard about the cannibalism. Apparently we taste like chicken, and go down great with a nice bowl of kava.

    BTW, I hit the BBC News website this evening and saw Johnny Boy’s face gawping out at me: something about him not wanting the Aussie cricket team to tour Zimbabwe. Since when did he come over all human rights-conscious? Election coming up, is there?

  • Dr Dreadful

    Dave, “Paki” in Britain is a mildly derogatory racial epithet, used against anyone who looks as if they might be from the subcontinent. Might want to think about appropriateness before using that one again.

    Just a friendly heads-up!

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    I’m fully aware, DrD. I’m quite familiar with the term and not terribly fond of their performance as bureaucrats based on prior experience. And the key word in your comment is ‘mildly’.

    Dave

  • STM

    Actually, the term Paki has, in my experience, never really been regarded as just a mildly derogatory racial epithet. It’s actually quite serious business, and might even be regarded among some sections of the British population as highly offensive.

  • Dr Dreadful

    highly offensive

    Yup. Especially to addressees whose folks were not actually from Pakistan. It’s just inappropriate, offensive on the same level that referring to Arabs, Sikhs and anyone else wearing a headdress as “camel jockeys” is offensive.

  • STM

    Or, as they are known in Australia, “towelies”.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Yes, Australians are certainly known for their succinct turn of phrase.

  • STM

    That’s because it’s too hot and we can’t be bothered dragging everything out.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    “…the term Paki… might even be regarded among some sections of the British population as highly offensive.”

    Stan,

    Have to agree with you on this. My limited experience with the reactions to this term show your assertions to be true, rather than those of Drs. Nalle and Dreadful.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira,

    I’d ask you to look carefully at the turn the comments have taken here and think about which other group gets slammed with “mildly offensive” terms.

    A “much bigger dog” dragged this video in his jaws and dropped it in one of my articles, growling angrily at the Jew who did almost all the talking in it.

    The title of the video was “Zionist insulting British Activist and Jesus”. A slightly different version of the same video was called “Hebron Settler confronts British Journalists.”

    The bottom line here is that in Europe and on university campuses across your country, the word “Zionist” has replaced “kike”, “sheeny” and “Christ-killer” as the “slur of choice.” In essence, the name of the video that MBD bitched and whined about was “Kike insulting British Activist etc.”

    This means that whenever you see the word “zionist” on an anti-Israel or anti-Jewish website, the word “kike” should come to your head immediately – for that is what is meant.

    One of the really nice things about living here, Elvira, is that the only place I see “kike,” “Jew-bastard,” or “Christ-killer” is on the web.

    People who like to keep their teeth do not utter these words in Israel – unless they are Jews referring to the goyim who so.

  • http://bacalar.blogspot.com Howard Dratch

    Elvira. I hope you get to take your trip to Amsterdam. The rest of your story is one of the frustrations known world-wide and always a surprise to us, Americans, when we are reminded that we are far from exempt.

    The part about not getting to go is pure sadness.

    To make your hassles a little less threatening I could tell you about the process of getting an FM3, Mexican yearly visas. The first took a year or more from a bureaucrat in the Immigration office (INM) who did not like: 1. foreigners, 2. men and 3. working — not necessarily in that order. Now she has been bumped up somewhere. Last year new federal oversight of the agency made the renewal process take 3 months.

    Mexico does ask religion, Ruvy. However, with Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata in mind, I always say “none”, a very proper revolutionary response. For an American it is short for “none of your business” — a proper American response.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Many thanks to you all for your great comments. I think what I’m taking away from this is the fact that when bureaucracy rears its ugly head, the result is frustration at best, if not disaster at worst. It all seems to hinge on the particular “person” you encounter at a particular place and time–and maybe even whether they are in a good mood or not; have a personal prejudice or “bone to pick” with certain groups, etc.

    This kind of personal “discretion” obviously wreaks havoc, and bureaucracies are also notorious for unaccountability. Combine human foibles with a set of rules which can be bent or applied–or not–depending on the person enforcing them–and virtually anything goes. The same person who may give you a hassle may let someone else go through with no special scrutiny.

    That’s what haunts me about this incident–the fact that I could get no explanation at all. Maybe because I had my old passport (almost surely expired) packed away somewhere–since it’s never a good idea to have a passport floating around unaccounted for. But I guess I’ll never know.

    Ruvy, your friend Sergio’s experiences are chilling–and I’m glad he found American agents much easier to deal with–but again, it seems to me that’s just the luck of the draw to a certain extent, and what was hassle free “yesterday” may not be so today..

    As to the video you linked to–I read some of the comments from both sides, and I do agree that there is a double standard at work. Arab terrorists are not our allies–and although Israel and its policies may not be perfect, there is simply no way I can see using this incident as an excuse to indict “Zionists” and defend enemies who hate us–Jew and Gentile alike. For any isolated incident such as this one, there are countless other examples of outrageous behavior and actions on the part of our enemies which are beyond excusing on any level–but some do.

    Howard, it actually worked out for the best at least in the short run that I didn’t go, but if I’d kept to my travel plans I’m not sure what would have happened. In any case, I still want a passport and have 90 days to respond–but noted with some alarm that failure to comply would “result in a delay for any future requests.”

    Again, what irks me most is that while so much scrutiny is being utilized against American born citizens, there are still dangerous cracks in our domestic security on countless levels 5 plus years after 9/11. The recent incident at Fort Dix is just one example of why terrrorism experts generally say it’s not a question of if, but of when, as far as further attacks on the U.S. If it were not for an ordinary store clerk alerting the authorities, these terrorists in our midst might have succeeded in their evil plan to kill as many military personnel as possible. I’m sure people realize that extra security hassles are necessary in this day and age–but it seems as if still and all, those who should be scrutinized more closely can wriggle through the cracks fairly easily.

    Stan, what you said about your photo looking different is one of the things that troubles me as well. My passport photo now doubtless looks very different from my first passport photo taken 15 odd years ago, and I can literally look like two different people depending on the way a photo is taken, so all my photo ID’s vary considerably. Will the computerized facial recognition technology be able to discern these changes? Will one be at the mercy not just of human caprice, but a machine?

    And if humans can be imperfect and unbending, a computer can be even more “illogical” and unyielding. A routine trip to any store with security scanners bears this out. The things beep almost indiscriminately–so much so that often the technology is rendered worthless.

  • brinkcraven

    fascinating and informative article and discussion. it comes at an interesting time since I may be applying for a passport soon. wish me luck, seems like I might very well need it. Ugh.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira,

    On 13 May Ruth Spindler wrote:

    My jaw dropped in disbelief when I read this article. Several months ago my husband and I renewed our passports on line with no problems. Within ten days we were issued new passports.
    As some of you know we travel extensively and have been to Amsterdam and the Britain’s as well as Israel may times.

    It would appear this person was singled out for some strange reason.

    b’AHAVA (With love)
    RUTH

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Thanks Ruvy and Ruth:

    My boyfriend actually found my old passport today in a dresser drawer–it is way, way expired–and now that I’ve got most of my old paperwork over at my new place I will go ahead and submit a copy of that as well as the other documents–though it is very old and I looked a lot younger.

    But yes, it is disturbing, and I’m not sure who to approach to inquire about it. I’m pretty sure I’d get nowhere though.

    The thought that I was “singled out for some strange reason” is pretty chilling–but trying to get answers out of a bureaucracy? Yeah, right…

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Bahama Eva:

    Many thanks! I only saw your comment by chance because apparently my Yahoo e-mail is only consistent in sending me spam rather than my BC comments so I can actually see them and reply. Sigh…

    But yep, it probably pays to really plan ahead. I think the Passport Bureau is insanely scrambling to try to get all those last minute rush applications through.

    And “National ID card”–just the sound of it sounds creepy, almost Hitlerian somehow.

  • Ruvy in Jerusalem

    Elvira,

    I don’t know if you realize this or not, but if you have a cell phone, some putz from a government agency can literally follow you around using GPS triangulation. That’s creepy.

    If you think, “national ID card” is creepy, find another name for it that sounds nicer. I know you are a creative writer. The big WASPS running the show behind the scenes in America will thank you (and THEN they’ll stick you in one of their detention camps in Wisconsin or something…).

    And get the hell out of America! No matter how dangerous it may seem from the Arabs, and no matter how many low culture Israelis there are (or nasty Brooklyn Jews like me), you’ll be safer here than anywhere else on earth – particularly in the mountains of Judea and Samaria.

  • STM

    You are lucky Elvira … I can no longer get into the US without my biometric details (including digital image and all my passport details) being held on file … including fingerprints, which must be given on arrival. Failure to do so results in refusal of entry to the US.

    I would baulk at my own government having those details, but a foreign one! I’m certainly not keen on the US govt having those records (perhaps I’ve watched too many conspiracy movies), but times have changed and if you wish now to travel to America, it’s what you have to live with.

    I guess the annoying thing about it is that we are friends of the US (possibly your best friends, along with the Poms) and just on a personal level, I look so bloody anglo. There’s no way in a million years anyone could mistake me for an Arab terrorist, even when I’ve been surfing a lot and have a suntan. Especially then, as my hair goes totally white. And there’d be no doubt what I am when I open my mouth.

    Still, when it comes to working out what terrorists might look or sound like, the answer should be: “How long’s a piece of bloody string?”.

    I can understand the paranoia post 9/11, but I don’t like it much. Just another thing to blame on those murderous bastards.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Ruvy:

    I knew I shouldn’t have given in and gotten a cell phone–not only is it expensive, but now I can be tracked! Though the powers that be would probably be bored to tears at my meanderings, which are mostly just to the grocery and the 99 cent stores and back…

    And the idea of a detention camp is bad enough, but in Wisconsin? Oy vey.

    The US may be dangerous, but as you can see, “they” don’t seem to want me to leave (lol?)

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Stan:

    What a pain…do you know how long this has been a requirement? And what are Poms? Pomeranians?

    Who knows–they might think you’re an, um, albino Arab? Sheesh, what a world.

  • STM

    Elvira …

    Poms = The English (now generic for Brits).

    Pomeranians … lol. They’d really love that.

  • Dr Dreadful

    Where is Pomerania anyway? Somewhere in Turkey?

  • http://www.elitebloggers.com Dave Nalle

    Historically Pomerania was part of north-eastern Germany. I think what was once Pomerania is now divided in some way between Germany and Poland.

    As for Poms, I have a theory which is probably wrong. I think it’s a misprononciation of the first syllable in the name of Lord Palmerston who was the British Prime Minister during part of the early history of Australia. Any truth to that theory?

    Dave

  • STM

    No Dave, but the origins are very obscure. At one stage, people thought that it related to the new arrivals and was an acronym for prisoners of mother England (POME).

    That’s since proved to be a load of bullsh.t, as it’s not been found in any written records.

    However, many new arrivals from England in the 19th century tended to be a bit pasty-looking (nothing’s changed! :), and their cheeks and faces invariably would get a bit red because of the strong southern sun and extreme heat.

    They were thought by the locals to resemble pomegranates, and we think that’s how the term came about. Makes more sense than the prisoner theory. The Kiwis also use the term, so that’s telling. There is also a quaint name for England, still in common usage: the Old Dart – but used only by Australians and New Zealanders, and no one’s really sure where it comes from.

  • http://blogcritics.org/writer/clavos Clavos

    Given the history of your original countrymen, the prison in England, perhaps?

  • STM

    Dartmoor? Possibly Clav, that’s one to think about … there’s been a theory that ships from America used to come and and go from the River Dart, the first entry to port in south-west England. But this ain’t America. The other is that the convict transports used to leave from Woolwich, and would pass on their journey up or down the Thames through Dartford, now part of greater London. It may have no maritime connotation at all.

    Who knows. We are a strange mob, I know that … nearly as mad as you blokes :)

  • http://www.selfhelpzone.com/ SHZ

    Oh my god how many forms, photo’s you have to submit to prove, that you are an American and get a passport.

    My friend applied for her passport and got it with 2 weeks. She is living in Florida, was born in Ohio, all she needed was her birth certificate and driver license.

  • Alicia

    That blog was very informative because I just received the same set of documents from the passport center today. I was convinced it was fake until I searched on google and found this blog entry, but still I think I’ll continue with a little research of my own before I send in all of these things.

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com/ Elvira Black

    Alicia, it’s “reassuring” to know that someone else received the same forms. It is very hard to find any reference to this anywhere. I finally found one reference on one of those passport agency sites where you pay extra to have them expedite your passport application, but it doesn’t seem to be well publicized at all.

    BTW: I too was hesitant about the matter, but finally sent the info about 10 days ago and just received my passport the other day…

  • Jim

    We just got one of these nasty letters for a young lady who we took legal custody of about 6 years ago. She just turned 18, and has to come up with all of this nonsense??????

    She submitted a drivers license AND birth certificate, and now they want a NEWSPAPER ARTICLE about her…seriously, that’s acceptable as one of the five forms of ID! ! !

    This sucks, in a big way!

  • http://elvirablack.blogspot.com Elvira Black

    Hi Jim:

    Yes, I recall that a newspaper clipping was acceptable, but sounds a bit “hinky”:almost as if, if you are “prominent” enough to have something written about you, it might merit further “investigation” lol…

    But since she had a driver’s license, this seems even more stringent than my experience. Maybe it has something to do with the fact that you took legal custody of her; in my case I had to submit my parental units’ history/info.

    Perhaps some of this is computer generated? (Isn’t everthing these days?) Along with the “garbage in/garbage out” phenom…I think at some point they were hiring “outsiders” to process some of this stuff due to the incredible backlog/volume of applications, so inexperience may have something to do with it. Who knows? One of those mysteries that may or may not be revealed later…

    Would be interested in how this all turned out!

  • Sue

    Now I’m worried….I applied for a 1st time passport 4+ weeks ago – gave them my birth certificate & copy of drivers license with the application & also got the letter requiring further ID (they ask on it where & when you were baptized, BTW.) I’m 56 years old & don’t have every addressed I ever lived, etc. but did my best. That was over 2 weeks ago & I still haven’t heard back. I just want to got to Canada for a few days! My only son is serving his 2nd tour of duty in Iraq, and I can’t get a passport?! (I’m no felon either, LOL) Do you know any reasons why they wouldn’t issue someone a passport?

  • Scott

    Sue, What was your outcome? Did you get your passport? If so, how long did it take after you sent the requested documents? I’m in the same boat and applied a month ago. I received the same letter asking for 10 documents ten years or older! I recently got married and our honeymoon is planned for February. I already bought the plane tickets and have a deposit down. Did you contact your Congressman to see if he or she would help? It shows how rediculous another government run program is more than outrageous.