Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Profiling - I Have Been Subject To, I Am Not A Victim

Sitting over here in Thailand so many thousands miles away from America, I get and have developed a different perspective on many things. Away from the main stream media and being exposed to a completely different set of life experiences, you see things differently.

The past few days from the Internet, Facebook, and what English language news programs available here on television, I see that the United States is getting stirred up about the new law in Arizona related to illegal immigrants.

I have some thoughts on this from a set of circumstances that may not be familiar to many of you.

First of all, I stay in a foreign country by choice. Due to Thailand's immigration laws, I can not live in Thailand. Thailand has very restrictive immigration policies to the point that you can with certainty never be allowed to live in Thailand as an immigrant much less as a Thai citizen. However, Thai law allows you to stay in Thailand for up to one year if you meet certain requirements. In my case I actually meet the requirements for two eligibility categories to stay in Thailand. First of all I am over 50 years old, and I have a specified minimum amount of money in a Thai bank account. This allows me to apply and then request a one year extension each year to remain in Thailand as "Retired".

Secondly I am married to a Thai citizen. Being married means that I have to maintain only 1/2 half the amount of money in a Thai bank account that I have to maintain for "Retired" status. The complication of "Married to A Thai" status is that the marriage has to be reviewed and approved by Bangkok authorities after it is reviewed and approved by local authorities. With the possibility of losing face perhaps by Bangkok authorities, local officials are hesitant to assist in processing "Married to a Thai" applications whereas they have absolute authority and control over "Retired" extensions. Since both conditions, "Retired" and "Married to a Thai", are only able to be extended for one year each year, I continue to apply for extensions as "Retired".

That is the Thai law and policy. For me to stay in Thailand for a year each year, it is worth the effort as well as expense. It is the Thai law and policy. I will not criticize or defend the situation. I respect the Thai law and policy. I have determined that it is in my personal best interests to follow the law and policy. If at some future point in time, the law and policy run counter to what I believe is in my personal best interest, I will leave Thailand. The point is that I know and I accept that I have no right to live here. I am a guest and I am pleased that there are ways to stay here for a year each year as long as I follow and obey the laws.

Being a guest in a foreign land, I make certain that I am always on my best behavior especially regarding the laws and dealings with government officials. I don't want to give anyone any excuse or cause to throw me out of their country. It is just that plain and simple.

That is some personal background on where I am coming from. I am experiencing what it is like to be a foreigner in a country. I know what it is like to not speak the language. But to get to the subject of profiling.

I have been the subject of profiling. Yes it may be hard to believe but people other than Hispanics, Blacks, and Muslims are subject to profiling by the United States government. Middle aged white men are also subject to profiling.

In June 2007, upon arrival at San Francisco International Airport, I was selected for special questioning and search of my personal belongings. I had started working in Thailand in April of 2006, so there were several entry and exit stamps in my passport at the time for Thailand. The United States official asked me what I was doing in Thailand. When I told him that I was working, he wanted to know what company was I working for, where in Thailand was I working, what was my position, how long had I been in Thailand and so forth. He requested documentation to verify my responses - documentation such as a business card or a recent pay stub. I didn't have a business card on me so I gave him my Company Medical Insurance Card. I believe this intense and detailed line of questioning went on for about five minutes. This was in full view of other people clearing customs as well as immigration. The government official even asked why I was back in the USA, how long was I staying in the USA, where I was staying in the USA, and where I was going once I left the USA other than Thailand.

After the interrogation, he proceeded to search my luggage. He performed a very thorough search of every piece of my baggage. It was so thorough that he looked at every single photograph that I had in my bag and asked me where the photograph was taken and details about the scene. There were a couple photographs of children, unoffensive photos and fully clothed, he asked me who the children were as well as their names. When he came upon my small digital camera, he asked me permission to view the photographs and then requested that I show him how to view the photos on file in the camera. Again there were some photos of Thai friends and he asked who they were and what relationship that I had with them. After doing a thorough search of my baggage, he asked to look inside my wallet and asked me to turn my pockets inside out. Satisfied with finding nothing of interest to him and after 15 minutes, he welcomed me back to my homeland and allowed me to enter.

I have to admit that during this entire process I was treated with respect and courteously. The government official was very professional at all times.

What was it all about? Why me? What was he looking for?

Fortunately one of my friends, a white single male in his late 40s had received similar treatment on his previous return trips to the USA and had told me about it. His treatment was actually worse in that the US government seized his personal laptop computer. When his personal property was returned a month or two later, his hard drive which had been functioning without problems, no longer worked. What was it all about? Why him? What was the US government looking for?

My friend and I fit the profile of paedophiles. We were white educated somewhat affluent middle aged males who made frequent trips between Thailand and the USA.

We were aware of the issue that still exists today of men travelling to Southeast Asia to abuse children. It is a disgusting and revolting truth - sex crimes being committed by a certain type of person - not 80 year old grandmothers, not 30 year old Black females but crimes typically committed by middle aged white males. The fact that we had frequent trips to Thailand was another point of their interest. To paraphrase some phrases used in the media for other minorities subject to profiling - We were only guilty of "WITWBWAMA" - "Working In Thailand While Being White and Middle Aged".

I can not write about my friend's reaction or beliefs related to his experience but I will share mine. I did not enjoy my experience. My experience was embarrassing and bordered on being humiliating. I was treated fairly, professionally, and with courtesy.

Although I did not enjoy my experience, I was embarrassed and somewhat humiliated, I do not consider myself to have been a victim. I know the types of people who commit many of the sex crimes in Asia are people that I fit the profile of. I am ashamed that it is true. My personal discomfort does not change that fact. My belief is that my participation in the the special questioning and search that day constituted my contribution to the overall effort to stop these crimes. It was a small price in my opinion to pay in an effort to improve the common good.

I am a staunch individualist however I was taught and still believe that we as individuals, the smallest of minorities, have an obligation to the majority. Our obligation is to make and accept minor accommodations that benefit the greater good.

I believe that society has obligations to respect the rights and wishes of the minority but the minority also has obligation to reasonably accommodate the majority. It isn't always about me or you. Sometimes we have to give a little for the greater good. Giving a little does not necessarily mean losing.

It is how I stay here in Thailand.

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