Since September 11, 2001, getting in to the U.S. as a foreign visitor has become a harrowing experience. So much so, in fact, that foreign tourism is down 17% as many tourists choose to spend their holidays elsewhere rather than be poked, prodded, searched, fingerprinted and verbally abused by U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents.
Not to fear, though; the Department of Homeland Security and Department of State have done something about it.
The first Americans that foreign tourists run into upon arrival are Customs agents. Of course, what they’ve done doesn’t at all involve training Customs agents to be less abrasive and more welcoming.
Instead, Homeland Security and State have partnered with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts to produce a video to show to foreign visitors in international airport arrival areas and make them feel welcome, while they wait their turn in line to be shaken down. The government calls this a “multimedia initiative to welcome international visitors to the United States.”
“Disney commissioned the project as part of the Rice-Chertoff Initiative that seeks to secure America’s borders while welcoming legitimate visitors to the United States,” according to a CBP news release.
“America’s arrival for its foreign visitors really needs to be a welcoming experience,’ said Walt Disney chairman Jay Rasulo in an accompanying video about the making of Welcome: Portraits of America. “We know that in the first one hundred steps when people leave an airplane is when we have a chance to really make an impression about what a welcoming place they’ve arrived.”
Now it’s true that after people manage to get past Customs and into the country, Americans are some of the most friendly, generous, welcoming people in the world. And this video showcases this fact. But it does nothing to assuage the fears of foreign tourists: that they’ll never get into the country in the first place, that they will be denied entry, or detained for hours for no reason, or even tortured.
A DHS spokesman last year called “flawed and self-serving” a 2006 survey which found that international visitors to the U.S. worried more about Customs agents than terrorists and that one-third found them so rude and abrasive that they planned never to return to the U.S.
The video began playing last Monday at Washington Dulles International Airport and Bush Intercontinental Airport in Houston, and will be rolled out to international airports nationwide, according to DHS. No word yet on whether Customs agents will begin treating visitors with dignity and respect.