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My name is khan and its scandal


Offshore Agent
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Sep 11, 2009
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''My name is Khan.'' ''Oh it is, is it? Step aside,


The way it was related, that might well have been the opening exchange between Shahrukh Khan and an unnamed, uniformed, super-empowered US immigration official who had no idea (and didn’t care) that the man in front of him is the star of a film by the same name (My Name is Khan), much less that he is a universal Bollywood icon.

SRK, as the actor star is known by his popular acronym, was asked to indeed step aside for a ''secondary inspection'' at Newark’s ironically named (in this context) Liberty International airport on Friday en route to an event to celebrate India’s Independence Day in Chicago, President Barack Obama’s hometown. But that was only after a ''primary inspection.''

A ''secondary inspection'' is when the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officer manning the immigration counter asks a visitor (or even a US citizen) to move to a separate area for questioning if he cannot initially verify the visitor’s information or does not have all of the required documentation, so as to not hold up the rest of the queue.

It is not clear why Khan, who is a frequent visitor to the US, and only recently spent a month here shooting for “My Name is Khan,” was subjected to a ''secondary inspection,'' which in itself does not constitute detention.

But the actor surmises that it was because of his last name; in other words, his Muslim identity. He was questioned for nearly two hours, asked what he thought were irrelevant questions, denied the use of his cell phone (which isn’t unusual; visitors cannot use mobile phones before clearing immigration) and was finally allowed to make just one phone call under the rules.

''I told them I was a movie star and had recently visited the country for the shooting of my film. Nothing seemed to convince the immigration officer. There were other immigration officers who even vouched for me but this particular officer did not listen to anyone. I even told them I had an invitation from the South Asian community and was there to attend an event.'' Khan told ToI.

Indian and US officials rushed into damage control mode after word came in from Khan’s family that that the actor had been ''detained'' and Khan’s vast fan base went ballistic. Timothy Roemer, the new US ambassador in New Delhi whose first week on the job it is, said he was trying to ascertain what exactly had happened at Liberty, and that Shahrukh Khan was a global icon whose film were much loved even by Americans and he was always welcome in the US.

But Khan, from all accounts, doesn’t feel so welcome and says he will review his plans to visit the US again. In a slew of media interviews after the incident, he said his papers were in order, it seemed to be a case of religious profiling, and the incident was a ''little embarrassing'' for an entertainer of his stature.

Khan’s upcoming film ''My Name is Khan,'' a movie about an Indian Muslim setting out on a journey across the United States, is certain to get a boost after the incident.

It is not the first time that an Indian entertainer with a Muslim identity has been asked to step aside for additional scrutiny. Actors Aamir Khan and Irrfan Khan have had similar experience. So has the Canadian-Indian writer Rohinton Mistry, a Parsi, who once cancelled a book tour of the US soon after 9/11 because he felt he was being needlessly profiled. Other Indian visitors, not necessarily Muslims, have felt singled out.

The incident comes days after a US government panel, gratuitously in the eyes of many Indians, panned New Delhi for its “inadequate protection of religious minorities,” even as the US President and Secretary of State lavished praise on Indian democracy on the occasion of the country’s Independence Day on August 15. It also comes on the heels of the flap over security procedures former President APJ Abdul Kalam has been subjected to in violation of protocol.

But there is an American side to the story too. US officials who have spoken to this correspondent on the subject in the past feel that some Indian visitors are needlessly huffy about routine security procedures, and there is a broad cultural mismatch or misunderstanding between the two countries in their view of rules and authority. India, one official said, has too much of a ''VIP culture'' that gives some people a false sense of privilege and entitlement that does not sit well in a world of ever increasing security threats. Even minor delays and inconveniences are exaggerated and conflated into major protocol breaches by some Indians.

The conversations took place during the kerfuffle over then Defence Minister George Fernandes’ visit to the US, when he said a ''pat down'' was frequently described in the Indian media as a ''strip search.'' The official also said the US VIP list was much more restrictive and even Senators and Congressmen underwent security screening. In the US, except Presidents (who usually travels on Air Force One), former Presidents, and Cabinet principals, there’s no VIP treatment to others – as former vice-president Al Gore has experienced more than once. In one recent incident, an airline employee who helped Gore circumvent security screening at the Nashville airport was pulled up and the former Veep was brought back to go through security, which he did willingly and without making a fuss.

For now though, the cry has already gone up in India for ''pay back'' and subjecting US VIPs visiting India to the same treatment as the Khans say they get in US. Even senior government ministers have jumped into the fray. ''I am of the opinion that the way we are frisked, for example I too was frisked, we should also do the same to them,'' Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni told a news agency. Others have suggested the ''Brazilian model,'' where Brazilia adopted similar security protocol as Washington, including photographing and fingerprinting visitors. Khan himself is said to have joked that Angelina Jolie must be subjected to the same treatment.

Of course, if Jolie or Clooney or Pitt (or Congressmen and Senators) are subjected to such treatment, it is unlikely we would ever hear about it -- since they seldom make a to-do about such things. But then it is even less likely that they would be subjected to such a welcome, given the Indian mix of VIP culture and Athithi Devo Bhava – even at the risk of imperiling security.

What happens at a US port of entry (POE)

Inspection at a US Port of Entry: What to expect/What do CBP officials do?

* Upon arrival at the POE you must present your passport and other required documents. CBP officers will review these to determine whether to allow you to enter the US.

* Your first encounter with CBP officers will be at a primary inspection station where they ask foreign nationals questions to determine their identity and nationality.

* If they decide to admit you the CBP officer will also determine how long you will be allowed to stay in the US, and in what status you will be admitted.

* CBP officers review passports, visas, and other supporting documents of each and every foreign national arriving at a US POE. The CBP officers also compare fingerprint records and name check databases for recent derogatory information, ask questions about the foreign nationals general qualifications for the visas they have, review the Form I-94 Arrival and Departure Record (or, for Visa Waiver travelers, Form I-94W).

What Kind of questions do the CBP officers ask?

CBP officers at US POEs will ask you questions to determine the true intent of your trip to the US. Inspections Officers are trained, and have the experience to back up their training, to identify if a foreign national has a pre-conceived intent behind their trip to the US, i.e., they are looking to see if you are actually coming to go to school or for a job interview when you say you are coming to visit Disneyland. If an officer is not convinced with your initial statements, they may ask for additional supporting documentation be allowing you to enter the US.

CBP officials – their power and authority – what they can do?

CBP officers have complete power and authority at the POE. It is up to their discretion to conclude whether or not a foreign national is eligible to enter the US. It is only after a CBP officer stamps and dates the I-94 form, places an admission stamp in the foreign national's passport, and the foreign national passes through the inspection station that the foreign national is admitted to the United States.

Secondary Inspection – what leads you to a secondary inspection?

If the first CBP officer that a foreign national meets feels that the inspection requires additional time for review to determine a foreign national's eligibility, the officer may refer the foreign national for a “secondary inspection.” This secondary inspection is a much more comprehensive review, and can take several hours to complete. Generally a foreign national referred for secondary inspection is not considered to be “admitted” to the United States.

What generally happens in a secondary inspection?

In secondary inspection, CBP officers will ask a foreign national more detailed questions about their travel plans for the US. Foreign nationals may even be asked to produce additional identification and other documentation in order to determine their actual identity and purpose of their visit to the United States. The foreign national and their belongings may also be searched, and the foreign national may be required to give a full set of fingerprints.

Any person, foreign national or person with a claim to US citizenship and presenting a US passport, may be sent to secondary inspection if the CBP officer has reservations about admitting him to the United States. A person may also be sent to secondary inspection if there is a possibility the person is smuggling contraband or violating any other customs or immigration regulations, or federal law in general.

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