Love US, but don’t touch US

Monday, October 5, 2009  

liberty_maskedThe Brazilian city of Rio de Janeiro was chosen to host the 2016 Summer Olympic Games over a few other cities, including the United States candidate of Chicago. This was played up in the press as a failure of the US Olympic Committee. But living overseas one detail of the process stood out, a question posed to the USOC that President Obama himself fielded.

IOC member Syed Shahid Ali of Pakistan said that foreigners entering the US “can go through a rather harrowing experience,” and asked how would the US deal with that when thousands travel there for the 2016 games. Obama responded:

“One of the legacies I want to see coming out of the Chicago 2016 hosting of the Games is a reminder that America at its best is open to the world. And, as has already been indicated, we are putting the full force of the White House and the State Department to make sure that not only is this a successful Games, but that visitors from all around the world feel welcome and will come away with a sense of the incredible diversity of the American people.”

As many have pointed out, Obama is good with words (and I laud him for saying them) but they are just words. Those words can not alone reverse years of US intolerance not only to immigrants, but also to tourists. The US requires that every visitor from Latin America pass an expensive and arduous interview process to get a visa to enter for even the briefest of visits. Ironically, Brazil, the country who won the bid has recognized this intolerance by requiring the same from US citizens. (Though it’s still much easier for a US citizen to get a visa to visit Brazil than for the opposite.) This has hit me personally where my own boyfriend, who is an Argentine citizen, has never accompanied me in visiting the US in the three years we have been together; because the visa process is just too inhibiting. We can go to Mexico together instead, or to most countries in Europe, and not have to toil just for the privilege of standing on the soil.

On another side of this topic, why is it seen as a failure of the US that Rio de Janeiro won the selection? It is rather chauvinistic to see it as a shortcoming of the US Olympic Committee in place of recognizing that Brazil has earned the distinction of hosting the first-ever Olympic Games in South America. Let’s be happy for Brazil and celebrate by reforming our visa policies.

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