Posted by AAI on June 02, 2009 in News Clips
On Thursday, May 28th, at 3:00 PM The Bureau of Consular Affairs, division of American Citizens Services hosted a conference call with several organizations regarding their mission, goals, and several issues of concern, specifically problems faced by U.S citizens suspected of being from Arab heritage when trying to travel through or visit the West Bank or Israel.
Michele Bond, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State (DAS) for Overseas Citizens Services in the Bureau of Consular Affairs, began the conference by giving a quick overview of the different programs within the department, their respective missions, and their goals.
The Office of Overseas Citizen Service mission is to keep American citizens abroad safe. This is done primarily through their Consular Information Program, whose stated goal is to “enable Americans to make informed decisions regarding their travel plans” by providing travel information, alerts, and warnings.
The Office of Children’s Issues has two primary concerns; dealing with Parental/Child Abductions abroad (i.e. either parent abducting their child and taking them to their country of nationality overseas), and Inter-Country Adoption. This office is currently working on over 1400 cases involving 2100 children abducted.
The Office of Policy Review & inter-Agency Liaison deals with providing American citizens abroad all federal benefits they are entitled to. Within this office is the Victims Assistance Unit, whose responsibility is to assist American citizens abroad that have been affected by violent crime and terrorism.
“An American citizen is an American citizen is an American citizen,” Ms. Bond emphasized when addressing the issue of dual nationality. American citizens are all equal in stature regardless of how they obtained said citizenship, be it through birth in the U.S, being born to U.S parents outside the U.S, or through immigration. The only instance of an American citizen not being provided with the full assistance of a U.S consulate abroad is if he is in the country of his other nationality, in which case he is considered a citizen of that country and subject to its rule of law regarding citizens.
Ms. Bond then addressed the issue of entry into the West Bank, Israel, and Gaza. She stated that the United States expects ALL citizens to be treated fairly and consistently, regardless of their original heritage. Americans of Palestinian descent are to cross into the West Bank through the Allenby crossing rather than Ben Gurion airport, however, other than that distinction they are entitled to the same treatment as any other American citizen. She stressed the importance of having any citizen who is harassed, denied entry, or unreasonably delayed entry fill out a Denial of Entry form, so as to be able to collect concrete cases to present to Israeli officials when the State Department addresses this issue with their counterparts in Israel. Without any proof of actual occurrences, the United States will be at a disadvantage when raising this issue with the Israeli government.
Several AAI members participated in the call, with multiple questions and comments on the topic. One AAI member commented on the treatment of American citizens of Palestinian descent. He stated that the issue was not one of security, as Israel claims, but of harassment and lack of consideration. As an example he cited his 73 year old mother, an ill, older woman who poses no security threat whatsoever, but who has been harassed and delayed when trying to enter Israel to see ill family members, and been given short (7-10) permits to stay for no apparent reason. He also pointed out further proof that this was more than a matter of just security; many times Israeli security guards accompany American citizens of Palestinian heritage throughout the airport even after they have successfully passed through a security checkpoint, causing a great deal of embarrassment. Ms. Bond reiterated that it was cases such as this that need to be reported through the Denial of Entry forms, if we are to bring about a change in the situation. Mr. Abdel Qader then remarked on the difficulties many citizens face in travelling to Jerusalem to pick up documentation from the U.S Consulate. He stated that the U.S, being aware of this problem, had set up an office in Ramallah to facilitate the process, however he feared that this was a case of de facto U.S compliance with Israeli policy and would not help the situation in the long run.
Ms. Bond was then asked about the steps taken by her department once a Denial of Entry form has been sent. Ms. Bond explained that each complaint is handled on a case by case basis, and depending on the circumstances and the severity of the issue, an appropriate response is taken. This response ranges from simple archiving the form for future reference to direct intervention by the State department.
Another AAI member noted that at its core, this is simply an issue of blatant discrimination. What could citizens realistically expect to be done about the issue? Ms. Bond answered that only senior Israeli government officials can realistically change the situation, which is why the gathering of empirical evidence of this mistreatment is so crucial. The more ammunition, in the form of Denial of Entry complaints, we give our State Department to present to Israeli government officials at all levels, the more likely her office is to be able to bring about a change.
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