U.S. Arrivals Fingerprinted in Brazil
On Judge's Order, Americans Get Same Scrutiny Bush Sought for Brazilians
By Jon Jeter
Washington Post Foreign Service
SAO PAULO, Brazil, Jan. 3 -- Gerald Lewis emerged from the international airport on Saturday curiously looking at his hands. "My first time being fingerprinted," said Lewis, 40, an electronics salesman from Houston. "You don't expect that kind of thing to happen when you step off a plane in Brazil. Maybe Eastern Europe during the Cold War."
A judge in Latin America's largest country last week ordered federal police to begin photographing and fingerprinting all American travelers when they arrive at Brazil's airports.
Judge Julier Sebastiao da Silva's ruling followed an announcement by the Bush administration last month that it would introduce similar measures Monday for people arriving in the United States from a number of countries, including Brazil. The measure is intended to identify people who have violated immigration controls, have a criminal record or are known members of what U.S. intelligence agencies consider to be terrorist organizations.
Officials at the Department of Homeland Security said at least two of the 19 hijackers in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States might have been identified and detained if such a system had been in place at the time.
In his ruling last week, da Silva delivered a withering attack on the new U.S. measure and said Brazil must implement the same policy to protect the integrity and dignity of Brazilians traveling to the United States.
"I consider the act absolutely brutal, threatening human rights, violating human dignity, xenophobic and worthy of the worst horrors committed by the Nazis," da Silva said.
Brazil's new security measures are scheduled to begin nationwide on Monday. But federal police officers in Sao Paulo -- Brazil's most populous city and a major gateway into and out of the country -- have already begun fingerprinting and photographing American travelers. By Saturday morning, police had registered about 130 Americans and were expected to register 1,300 to 1,800 per day as they arrive in the country, according to tourism officials.
A U.S. Consulate official in Sao Paulo said there had been few complaints. "It's been real quiet," the official said on the condition of anonymity.
None of the Americans interviewed on Saturday seemed to consider the process more than mildly irritating.
"You have to expect delays anytime you travel anywhere in the world
these days," said Eric Wesson, 24, of Michigan, who arrived Saturday and
said he planned to
spend the next six months hiking around the continent.
"They were polite about it, and I can understand their point," he said.
"If we're going to treat them like criminals when they visit our country,
they are going to make
sure we feel the same way. It's kind of like a humiliation war rather than a trade war."
The mayor of Rio de Janeiro, the country's favorite tourist destination,
criticized da Silva's decision. Increasing numbers of tourists from the
United States and
elsewhere begin arriving in Brazil at this time of year, preparing for the country's pre-Lenten carnival celebration.
"This is a disastrous move," said the mayor, Cesar Maia. "We're right
in the middle of summer. I consider this a stupid retaliation that will
not bring any benefit to the
Da Silva, however, said he did not consider his court order retaliatory but rather "a question of international rights."
Vivian Keller, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Consulate, said that the office
was monitoring the situation but that U.S. diplomatic officials recognized
have the sovereign right to determine the entry requirements of foreign nationals."