Volume 73, Number 37 | January 14 - 20, 2004

Talking Point

In defense of Tom ‘Thumb’ Ridge

By Andrei Codrescu

Before it was decided to fingerprint everybody who isn’t fortunate enough to own the right passport, it was suggested that the Border Authority just keep the whole finger. That way people wouldn’t stay very long and would be sure to return before their visas expired. This proposal was shut down because it only inconvenienced good people, who are fond of their fingers. Bad people would just give up a finger to live in our Wal-Mart paradise, and really bad people like suicide, bombers would gladly surrender a small body part beforehand. Not to speak of people used to giving up a finger, like the yakuza. For them, giving up another finger would be an honor.

I sort of liked that idea, but don’t get me wrong. I also like fingerprinting and photographing every so-called “foreigner,” because it makes me feel that I’m really an American, a person, that is, who owns a Japanese-made flat-screen TV, a Chinese barbeque pit and a Romanian-made American flag. Let foreigners prove that they have all these things before they come over here to drive medium-sized rental Hondas on our splendid highways on their way to Disneyland.

Now there are some people who claim that fingerprinting and taking mug shots of every visitor is humiliating, arrogant and, above all, stupid. They say that tourists, students and scholars who come here have a positive interest in this country and that will change in a hurry if we treat them worse than cows with possible Mad Cow Disease. Actually, sick cows seem to cross borders with much greater ease. They also say that terrorists will be sure to come in some other way, with a lot less pressure now, since all law enforcement will be busy humiliating legitimate travelers.

That’s what these subversive types say; but they are so ignorant of history, it makes me want to hurl chunks. History says that everyone coming here is a foreigner until proven otherwise. The U.S. immigration authorities have a long, flourishing tradition, beginning in the early 19th century, of treating every would-be immigrant like a criminal. Immigration personnel at Ellis Island changed names that sounded too “foreign” to sound more Amurrican. They sent back socialists, communists and anarchists. Even when they let them in by mistake, they soon found them out and sent them back, even if there was no “back” to send them to. J. Edgar Hoover started his glorious career by putting Russian-born anarchists like Emma Goldman and others on leaky old boats and launching them away from our shores.

Of course, there is no end to kvetching. There are actually unpatriotic Americans (an oxymoron, I know, because “an unpatriotic American” is nothing but a foreigner in disguise) — anyway, there are some who say that our authorities mean to eventually fingerprint and photograph every person in the world, and that airports are not a bad way to start. Now why would anyone want to do that? Market research, they say. Isn’t that the darndest thing you ever heard?



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