March 17, 2006

Commentary:

Outcomes unknown

By Dilshad Tung

I have been following the progress of the Patriot Act’s renewal and its consequences. I am an intern at a local international organization called the Citizen Diplomacy Council of San Diego (CDCSD). This organization works closely with the US State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP). As its name suggests, the CDCSD is an organization dedicated to professional citizen-to-citizen dialogue and exchange between Americans and international visitors.

I am confident that the work I do at the CDCSD, which brings international visitors together with their American counterparts, is helping not only other nations through professional exchange, but also projecting a positive image of the United States. Eighty-eight percent of participants who traveled on the State Department’s International Visitor Leadership Program have said that the program increased their understanding of the United States. Our visitors carry this message of understanding back with them to their home countries. At one of CDCSD’s social events, this statistic took on new meaning for me. I spoke with several international visitors from around the globe who came to study youth leadership in the US. They expressed a renewed understanding of American youth and some even mentioned that they would implement certain concepts they had learned into their own youth programs back home.

This is what troubles me Congress has recently renewed the much debated Patriot Act. I am torn on the act itself, however there is one aspect of the legislation I would like to draw your attention to, “ideological exclusion” provision. This provision could deny prospective visitors a visa to the United States because of political views. This could potentially affect the work of CDCSD, and other governmental programs, by “bridging the gap between nations one hand shake at a time.” Countless times at CDCSD I have heard stories of individuals who previously spoke out against our government, altering their position after their US experience. San Diego’s own Representative Susan Davis, I am happy to say, voted against the renewal. Also, she has consistently voted in favor of legislation that encourages international cooperation and indirectly aids in the work of CDCSD and IVLP.

I have had the privilege to travel to over a dozen countries on three continents, each of which I can honestly say stripped my mind of any stereotypes I held about the different countries I visited. In each country I was introduced to the culture, the style of living and ultimately the reason for those nations’ policies. I can see that international visitors visiting America may have the same enlightening experience. As Mark Twain once said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.”

The IVLP brings four to five thousand visitors from abroad each year. Each of these visitors on this program travels the country meeting with American citizens and professionals. They then return to their respective home and touches tens of thousands of individuals with their message. IVLP is only one of dozens of governmental exchange programs, which collectively touch hundreds of thousands of individuals across the globe each year. By renewing the Patriot Act, especially the “ideological exclusion” provision, I am saddened that Congress has possibly inhibited the progress of projecting a positive image of the US. Moreover, we as a nation are slowly cutting ourselves off from the rest of the world during a time that calls for openness. Richard Florida, a prominent economist, argues that creativity is indispensable to a prosperous economy. I quote the following from his book Flight of the Creative Class:

“Today, the terms of competition revolve around a central axis: a nation’s ability to mobilize, attract, and retain human creative talent […] A wide range of countries around the world are increasing their ability to compete for global talent […] the United States is undermining its own ability to compete for that talent.”

International Visitors to the US exchanging political, cultural, and other views with American citizens is the foundation of the IVLP. Richard Florida quotes: “America’s growth miracle turns on one key factor; its openness to new ideas, which has allowed it to dominate the global competition for talent, and in doing so harness the creative energies of its own people—and, indeed, the world’s.”

Thankfully, The ACLU has filed a lawsuit against the “ideological exclusion” provision of the Patriot Act. The ACLU charges that the provision prevents scholars from obtaining visas if their political views are unfavorable to the US government.

On Thursday, March 09 President Bush signed this legislation putting the Patriot Act into effect….

Dilshad Tung is an intern at Citizen Diplomacy Council of San Diego (http://www.cdcsd.org/).

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