Thursday, March 16, 2006

San Francisco Consultations

Officers going for their first consular tours in the EAP can choose to perform their obligatory DHS consultations in either LA or San Francisco; having already lived in LA for part of my college years, I was excited to have a chance to see northern California instead (while, you know, serving my country). The following is a list of Some Things to Know for those of you Consulting with DHS in San Francisco:

1. The taxi from the airport to the Hilton Downtown costs about $35-$40. I believe the hotel also runs a shuttle service for $25, but it was long past running when I arrived in SF (a little after midnight...).

2. a) The Hilton Downtown (like many other hotels in the area) charges the government rate of $130 a night; but this does not include about $20 per night's worth of taxes. This didn't bother me particularly, but might have been nice to know before check-out. You can voucher the taxi fare and the $130, but not the taxes.
b) Still, I'd recommend the Hilton. The location is great: an easy 30 minute walk to DHS, even shorter to Japantown and Chinatown. Plus, there's a 24 hour Indian food restaurant across the street from the hotel -- paneer tikka masala and naan bread anytime you want it! How cool is that? (Pretty darn cool, in case you're unsure.)

3. The first day of consultations with DHS takes place at the ICE building downtown, not at the airport. The building is located at 630 Sansome ST, between Washington and Jackson (six blocks north of Market AVE). Turn right when you leave the Hilton, then left at Sansome ST. Like I said before, an easy 30 minute walk from the hotel -- you'll have time to stop for coffee along the way. Or perhaps some tikka masala..?

4. To enter the ICE building, you will need your appointment letter (which should have been sent to you by email) and a photo ID. As with DC bars and clubs, the people manning the entrance will view your State Department ID with suspicion, and not a small touch of pity. Make sure you have your drivers license to back it up.

5. While a shirt and tie are appropriate, no one I saw at DHS had a jacket -- not even draped over a chair or on a hanger. I wouldn't think you'd need to wear one either (and indeed, I never put mine on). Granted though, I was there in March; things might be different in the dead of winter.

6. Also, no need for pen or paper. If you have business cards to give out, that might be helpful, but do you really think DHS is going to call you when there's a problem? (Yeah, I didn't figure they would either...) If you can get some of their contact info, that's the most important thing. Now that I'm at post, we're trying to coordinate more with DHS for information sharing, and the contacts are actually coming in handy.

7. If you're not going to what's considered a high fraud post, don't expect consultations to last all that long, or to be very specific to your particular job. Most of my DHS conversations went like this:

DHS -- Hi, I'm in charge of drug-smuggling, trafficking in persons, and fraudulent marriages. These are big topics, and I'm eager to discuss them. So, where are you headed?
Me -- Osaka.
DHS -- Oh. [blink blink], you like sushi then?

[NOTE: I have since discovered that there is actually a pretty fair amount of fraud in Japan... Despite stereotypes, the Japanese are not any more or less trustworthy than anyone else on the planet.]

8. Not that it wasn't interesting! The DHS folks are very amicable, and pretty candid. I got to sit in on an assylum interview, and learned more about how DHS interprets immigration law (in some cases, differently than I think State does). And also, I learned how I can make things easier for them on my end -- mainly, by more often annotating visas (which is an easy thing to do, but wouldn't have occurred to me if they hadn't asked).

9. You'll get a break for lunch. There are some restaurants near the ICE; the DHS people were happy to give me directions, and will even eat with you if they're not busy.

10. Day two of consultations happens at the airport, and the dress code is even more lax -- just dress as you want for your plane ride (I went in jeans, with no problem). The customs workers are incredibly busy, and I thought it was good of them to make time for me. Some of what you'll see is repeat from the ConGen trip to Dulles, but a good refresher. I actually got to see what happens when someone with a 'Crime of Moral Turpitude' conviction tries to enter without a visa, and from Japan no less! (Okay, well, I thought it was pretty exciting, but maybe I tend to set the bar a bit low -- ask me about the macadamia nut factory I toured on the Big Island sometime. Or the kim chee museum in Korea...)

11. And on a completely unrelated note, crochet hooks and sewing needles are now allowed on planes. But of course, despite having dragged along yarn, books, and study materials, I managed to do nothing but sit still and THINK for the entire duration of the 11 hour flight to Tokyo. I do NOT recommend thinking for 11 hours straight; I don't suspect it's very healthy.

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