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Su Lum: Homeland security

I’m sure you’ll all be relieved to know that homeland security is alive and well on the high seas.

Before we could board the Holland-America cruise ship in Fort Lauderdale, we were herded into a huge warehouse like the tired masses processed at Ellis Island. There we presented our passports, drivers’ licenses and the immigration papers that we had been sent in our cruise packets.

Everything was checked against the computers, the humiliating visages on the passports and drivers’ licenses were compared with our real selves who stood before our interlocutors. We were questioned, photographed and finally issued the badge of honor: the white plastic cards that would serve as our room keys, credit cards on board for any incidental purchases and proof that we had passed the test of legitimacy. No problem there.



The cards stated only your name, sail dates, boat name and life boat number (we were all B16). There was also a bar code along the side which, when swiped, brought up your photograph, room number, passport information, probably every cocktail and duty-free purchase you’d made, when you’d gone in and out of your room, your blood type and what you watched on TV. Well, we’re used to that.

We landed at Half Moon Cay (pronounced KEY) and had no problem there, since the island is owned by Holland-America. We had to submit a simple immigration form to get off at St. Maartens, a Dutch port.




But it came as something of a surprise that on the fourth day we were informed that before anyone could get off the ship the next morning at St. Thomas, an island owned by the United States, everyone had to be personally checked by a U.S. Immigration representative, whether you planned to get off the boat or NOT.

Starting at the uncivilized hour of 7:15 a.m., we were called down by our deck numbers, and had to present ourselves in the long lines of this senseless cattle call with either birth certificates or passports “opened to the page with your photograph” in hand.

What the HELL was the point of that exercise? To thwart what the anchor people call the “terrists”? If a terrist had sneaked on board, the point would probably be to blow up the cruise ship, which could have been accomplished before we docked at St. Thomas, and no terrist secreted on board would have shown up for the inspection in any case.

So there we were at dawn, standing in these long lines, with a sad minimum of baahing, bleating and mooing from the tourists who had already been checked up, down and sideways, and I think the only reason for it was to give the illusion that our government was looking out for us, keeping America safe, spending our tax dollars wisely.

Maybe rightly assuming that we’re so easy to fool, so easy to scare. Otherwise, there would have been an insurrection, wouldn’t there? And there wasn’t one. We’ve all learned that one word of protest can lead to inquisitions, strip-searches, being tossed off the boat, the plane, the bus, called un-American.

Some of us just grit our teeth and others, like the 30-something young Republican who shared the helicopter ride over St. Thomas, see it as the government doing everything possible to keep us safe.

[Su Lum is a longtime local who witnessed a gratifying insurrection on the bus to Miami, another story. Her column appears every Wednesday in The Aspen Times]


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