Travel planning for volatile times
February 8, 2017 8:23 AM   Subscribe

U.S. citizen (but identifiable "activist") deciding whether to visit North Africa – help me guess the unguessable re. possible future effects

(Literal first-world problem, I know.)

I have a chance to briefly visit Morocco for the first time, which I would find really exciting. This would happen in late fall, but I have to decide pretty soon (for planning purposes) whether to do it.

Because it's out of the question for me to get stuck outside the U.S. in the future (I have a young child here), my instinct is to err on the side of strong caution, but I can't make sense of where the current border situation is going.

My highest priority for my career is to stay able to fly at least between the U.S. and western Europe. If my having visited Morocco would mean a realistic chance of not being able to leave the U.S. at all, after conditions worsen, I shouldn't do it.

I've dreamed for years about cultural/tourist travel in the Middle East, especially in Iran. I know that may be tough for a while. But would visiting Morocco first make that even less advisable? (I care more about visiting Iran in the future than about visiting Morocco now.)

• I'm U.S.-born and -resident (uncomplicated U.S. citizenship) and I'm a white female with a 'non-ethnic' last name;
• I'm squeaky clean on criminal history; and
• I've done no travel in the Middle East or Africa so far.

• I've been involved with some anti-racist and copwatch groups that are known to be surveilled by the FBI (all entirely peaceful and legal in reality, but who knows how they've been or will be labeled);
• I'm mildly but consistently against the Orange One on social media (not like "Impeach now," more like "Please call your senators against cabinet nominee X");
• a handful of my Facebook friends are in Iran, Iraq, and Syria (they're all artists in my field, and our interactions are mostly about the arts but do include their expressions of hope I'll someday visit their countries, including for specific festivals); and
• top google results for my unique name lead directly to info re. my decade plus of anti-Islamophobia projects and my interests in / study of Persian and Middle Eastern culture.

In summer I'll be doing a short trip that should be of no concern – western Europe only – so I'll at least be able to confirm I have no issue returning to the U.S. at that point, even if by then CBP has automated checking of online presences / FBI history or other forms of flagging.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (8 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I understand it's a volatile and uncertain situation but Morocco's one of the most innocuous countries you could visit, IMO, and I don't think you should be concerned at this time. The Peace Corps still operates there (and nowhere else in the Middle East/North Africa), for example, which means that the US government is still sending hundreds of young Americans to live there and study the culture and language.

The main precaution I'd take would be purchasing a ticket that can be refunded if necessary. Also don't be sketchy when going through customs and feel the need to over-justify yourself. Thousands of American tourists visit Morocco every year, you're not in unusual company. Beautiful country. Definitely go.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:21 AM on February 8, 2017 [3 favorites]

Morocco is fine. No worries there. Even Algeria is still fine – for Americans this is largely because the US has a presence there on oil fields.

Do note that Morocco is culturally pretty different from the Middle East. They have a distinct dialect as well, although classic Arabic is of course understood.
posted by fraula at 9:26 AM on February 8, 2017

My ambiguously brown sister-in-law, who is a US Citizen born in Saudi Arabia, recently visited Morocco and had no problems with customs. Granted, this was before the new administration, but she is no stranger to secondary screenings and said it was an unexpected breeze.
posted by galvanized unicorn at 9:47 AM on February 8, 2017

I wouldn't assume that you'll be able to reenter the U.S. I think it says a lot that this is something people even have to think about now. The current administration does not seem to have boundaries that are predictable or consistent, and it has already demonstrated a willingness to go very far. Like into dystopian sci-fi far. I think it's prudent not to assume anything except that we should be prepared for it to get worse. And it does things quickly - we're not even a month post inauguration yet and August is around 6 months from now. I wouldn't risk it even if I didn't have a kid.
posted by Verba Volant at 10:23 AM on February 8, 2017

If you decide to make the trip, apply for Global Entry. It is the U.S. governments way of per-certifying that you are a trusted traveler. You are more likely to breeze through customs and immigration when you return.
posted by elf27 at 11:15 AM on February 8, 2017 [4 favorites]

The idea that U.S. citizens will be denied entry to the U.S. should not be a serious preoccupation right now. The executive order has (rightly) inspired fear and anxiety in legal residents and visa-holders, but the worries that the same could happen to citizens is, in my opinion, misguided and based on the incorrect idea that if the administration can go this far, it's only one step further to put the same restrictions on citizens. But it's not one step, or two steps - the legal difference between denying entry to visa-holders (or even LPRs) from Somalia and doing the same to American citizens is akin to the difference between gerrymandering congressional districts and declaring a formal hereditary monarchy. It could happen, sure, and one can imagine a dystopian path to that outcome, but if it did take place we'd be so far gone that you might not be so keen to return anyway.

What you might rationally worry about is whether your passport could be revoked based on where you've traveled, so that you could no longer freely leave the U.S. This is within the administration's power and has legal precedent in theory, though not systematically in practice - visitors to Cuba, for example. I don't personally think that it is likely - there's no obvious political or security benefit I can see and inevitable huge political fallout. As others have pointed out, many, many Americans have visited or live in Morocco. Iran has less of a constituency among travelers and is a more plausible target for something like this, but even in that case I'd expect something that looked more like the travel restrictions to Cuba than automatic passport revocation for anyone who's ever been there (and there are serious logistical hurdles to the second, since there's no real way for the USG to know, on a societal level, who has traveled where). If it were me, I wouldn't think twice before going to Morocco. Going to Iran, I'd make sure I could avoid a stamp in my passport.
posted by exutima at 12:06 PM on February 8, 2017 [10 favorites]

While I think your white privilege should be sufficient to protect you for the next four years and that Morocco is not very high on the target list, here are some recent news stories:
Canadian woman of Moroccan descent refused entry.
Nexus (joint Canada-US program equivalent to Global Entry) cards revoked.

I'd also note that Moroccan visa stamps are primarily in Arabic, without any text in the Roman alphabet saying "Morocco".

You are very unlikely to be denied reentry as a citizen, but there is a reasonable chance of some border hassling.
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 8:43 AM on February 9, 2017

As a side-note I'd like to say that I share the fear and concern for people of color and those born in other places, whose rights and lives are under attack. And I understand that people are sharing stories about these horrors out of empathy and solidarity. Maybe I came across as flippant.

The thing is, I think that it's a little problematic to share stories about non-citizens suffering in order to imply that therefore privileged white US-born citizens may also suffer in the same ways. Because realistically white US-born citizens are not and have never been as vulnerable as others. White people projecting our fears for people of color onto ourselves derails the focus from those who actually are under attack, right now, in a way that doesn't actually help them. I think we have to strike the balance between solidarity without accidentally appropriating discrimination we aren't experiencing.

I don't think anyone is intending to do this, and maybe folks disagree and I'm missing a nuance, but I do think we need to be mindful about the focus of our anxious energy and fears.
posted by Emily's Fist at 9:48 AM on February 10, 2017 [1 favorite]

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