Looking in: Making it explicit

Bias and discrimination against immigrants exist in the United States. This is not a controversial statement. The same situation exists in the United Kingdom. When I arrived in the United Kingdom on a student visa, just as I had to the United States, I expected no difference. “Random searches” if I had not shaved my beard and the like.

However, I was very surprised to learn that my visa had a special requirement that none of the other Tufts students here had to deal with. Citizens of 42 countries, including Turkey, had to report to the nearest police station within seven days of their arrival to the U.K. The list of 42 includes every country in the Middle East, North Africa, Central Asia, the Caucuses, Latin America, as well as Russia, China and Cuba.

Failing to register with the police in the first seven days of arrival is considered a criminal offense that carries a 5,000-pound fine, possible detainment without trial and deportation. So, if an absent-minded college student from one of these countries gets swept up in orientation week events and forgets to take care of this, the student might be deported.

The information to be given to the police includes your address, down to your room number if you live in a dorm, name, gender, nationality, marital status and, here is the kicker, religion. The local police want to know the foreign ‘usual suspect’s’ exact address so in the case of a crime, or terror threat, they can simply pick us up from our dorms, no hassle. And they have your religion on file presumably so they can put any Muslims on watch lists. Moreover, if you are going to be at another address for two or more months, you need to let the police know.

Adding insult to injury, as if this far has not been insulting and degrading, police registration costs money! When I report my address, religion and all other personal information to the police and they create a file to keep tabs on me, I have to pay them a fee of 38 pounds for doing so.

Two weeks ago, the Oxford Union hosted a debate on giving up liberty for security. After many mediocre speeches (displaying a sheer lack of understanding of Islam and the Middle East), all I was left thinking about was whose liberty for whose security. The trade-off in the United Kingdom seems clear: suspicious immigrants giving up liberty for the security of the peaceful natives.

I am sure similar practices exist in the United States. The U.S. government does keep track of where international students go to school and their status as full students is monitored on the Student and Exhange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). And different security agencies keep files on ‘suspicious’ immigrants and religious minorities. But at least they try to hide it. In the United States, the discrimination against immigrants is hidden under a veneer of equality for all, there is a good deal of pretending involved. Not so in the United Kingdom, which is what surprised me. The United Kingdom is brazenly saying “we think you are a possible criminal.”