I’VE WRITTEN BEFORE that U.S. Immigration seems to give us the worst of both worlds — it’s porous to criminals and terrorists, but it seems to excel at alienating people who ought to get in. The other day I was talking to an acquaintance, an Albanian Kosovar refugee who will be taking her U.S. citizenship exam next month. She said that absolutely everyone she has dealt with in the process has been rude, and most of them have been inept. That was my sister-in-law’s experience, too, except that the person who administered the citizenship test was nice. My brother said he was relieved that she had some positive experience in the process. . . .

Now comes this email from reader Matt Holzmann, in Seoul:

I was in Hong Kong yesterday with my friend Hamed and his Mother, who was visiting him from Cairo. We celebrated Eid al Fitr and of course had Italian. Hamed is the son of a former Egyptian ambassador to the United States, and is about as multicultural as it gets; born in Egypt, educated and an American citizen now, and having lived all over the world he now runs a $1 Billion company based in Hong Kong. He is a stalwart republican, but voted for Kerry this time.

Several months ago, his mother, who is in her late seventies, flew into New York to see one of her other sons. Her husband was a senior diplomat (including ambassador to the U.S.), and she has a green card. Despite this she was harassed and forced to spend 3 hours waiting for aomeone to examine her records. She is also quite frail. The INS staff were rude and uncaring. This is a woman who is highly cultured, and yet was treated as an enemy because of her citizenship.

She returned to Cairo, and handed in her green card at the consulate. The consul told her no one had ever done this before. I was scheduled to be in China today. Normally in the past, I would have been able to get a visa at the border. No more. The Chinese government has decided on a tit for tat with the United States now and has made it much more difficult to obtain visas.

Unfortunately, the American bureaucracy has truly alienated many of our friends and our own. With the new melt down at the CIA, perhaps we really need to revisit our style of doing things, as it seems to be endemic these days.

I hear stories like this absolutely all the time. People worry that we’re alienating people with foreign policy, but far more people around the world care about this sort of thing, and they hold a lot more grudges over being shat upon by some functionary than over something they read in the Guardian.

I realize, of course, that any system that handles this many people will have its problems, but this goes beyond that. Dysfunction seems to be the norm, not an exception, and while alienating so many people might be worth it if it bought us a lot more security, I don’t believe that it’s doing that. This deserves a lot more attention than it’s getting.