A report surfaced yesterday indicating that a bipartisan effort is underway to ban tourist travel to North Korea. The proposal is the result of the detention of several US citizens by the reclusive North Korean government. For years North Korea has made a habit of detaining American citizens to be used as bargaining chips. The congressional effort to create a North Korea travel ban seems well-intentioned, but is it the right thing to do?
North Korea Travel Ban & Freedom of Movement
Let me start by saying that I’m not a constitutional lawyer, but something about a ban just seems off. With no legal basis other than a gut feeling, I believe US citizens shouldn’t be banned from visiting anywhere, regardless of potential danger. Of course North Korea is right up there with Iran and Syria as places I’ll never be visiting. Nonetheless, if somebody wants to flirt with 15 years in a North Korean prison camp, then why should we stop them?
For 20+ years I’ve been traveling from my home in Phoenix to a beach town named Puerto Penasco, Mexico. It’s often described as “Arizona’s Beach” given it’s proximity to Phoenix and Tucson. Roughly 10 years ago, something started happening as we made our way to the Mexican border. US Border Patrol setup a checkpoint right before we cross into Mexico. Often times they ask questions about our intentions for traveling in Mexico, what we’re carrying in the car, and other minute details. This questioning has always irked me. Why is it anyone’s business whether I choose to leave the country or not?
How To Enforce A North Korea Travel Ban?
This is the part that renders any proposed legislation useless. How would the government effectively limit US Citizens from making their way to North Korea? Obviously no direct flights existing between the two countries. Once an American is in say China, what would preclude them from making their way over to North Korea? It reminds me of the decades long travel ban on Cuba. Sure it prevented everyday tourists from visiting. But anyone with a strong desire could easily make it to Cuba. Simply make connection in Mexico, then head over to Havana. Cuban immigration wouldn’t stamp your passport, and you were all set.
I think Congress is trying to keep American citizens safe. While its intentions are good, I still don’t like the precedent. While I’m not crazy enough to consider visiting North Korea, travel bans to certain countries can become a slippery slope. Ideally, the State Department should continue to provide appropriate warnings and let citizens decide what’s best for them. Besides, doesn’t Congress have more pressing issues on their plate at the moment?