Sunday, July 11, 2004

Got Your Visa?

A British reporter recounts her treatment by U.S. immigration, when (despite Britain having a visa waiver program with the United States) she didn't apply for an "I Visa" before attempting to enter the country:
After my luggage search, the officer took some mugshots of me, then proceeded to fingerprint me. In the middle of this, my husband rang from London; he had somehow managed to locate my whereabouts, and I was allowed briefly to wipe the ink off my hands to take the call. Hearing his voice was a reminder of the real world I was beginning to feel cut off from.

Three female officers arrived to do a body search. As they slipped on rubber gloves, I blenched: what were they going to do, and could I resist? They were armed, they claimed to have the law on their side. I was an anonymous foreigner who had committed a felony, and "those were the rules". So I was groped, unpleasantly, though not as intimately as I had feared. Then came the next shock: two bulky, uniformed and armed security men handcuffed me, which they explained was the "rule when transporting detainees through the airport". I was marched between the two giants through an empty terminal to a detention room, where I sat in the company of two other detainees (we were not allowed to communicate) and eight sleepy guards, all men. I would have been happy to spend the night watching TV with them, as they agreed to switch the channel from local news (highlight: a bear was loose in an affluent LA neighbourhood) to sitcoms and soaps. Their job was indescribably boring, they were overstaffed with nothing to do, and so making sure I didn't extract a pen or my mobile phone from my luggage must have seemed a welcome break. I listened to their star-struck stories about actors they had recently seen at LAX. We laughed in the same places during Seinfeld, an eerie experience. I was beginning to think I could manage this: the trip was a write-off, of course, but I could easily survive a night and a day of this kind of discomfort before flying back. But then I was taken to the detention cell in downtown LA, where the discomfort became something worse.


  1. Having seen this article before, I *still* think she's a stupid bitch, and you *know* how I feel about USCIS, Aaron.

    I've seen the form she filled out on the plane; you probably have, also. It's not "tiny" print. She signed a document stating she was NOT a foreign journalist, did so because she apparently didn't spend more than five seconds glancing at the form, and then throws a tantrum in her article because nobody "alerted her to it." (I guess back home, she also has servant to wipe her ass for her; can't expect to do everything oneself, you know.) It's not as though she has an English fluency problem or was misled by a translator as to what she was signing.

    She did NOT bother to look up visa requirements before she arrived--any reputable media employer would have told her about the visa requirements. So would a visit to USCIS's Web site, or a ten-second Google search. I have a vague memory that even the progressive EU requires *work* visas when you enter a country to *work*, and you generally must obtain such a visa before you walk off the plane.

    She also apparently mouthed off to the agents (stupidity rating: 10 of 10) and thought that being married to a citizen ought to get her off the bad list.

  2. Actually, I've been way too busy with "real life" stuff to track down all of the details. Suffice it to say, while "mouthing off" may well explain why a police agency applies a little extra "street justice", and that perhaps should even be an expected consequence, it is no excuse. Being an immigration officer is a paid job, abuse at some point is inevitable, and it is also possible to respond professionally to irksome prisoners.

    As for whether she "brought it on herself" by failing to read the entire visa application, or by thinking that she could avoid applying for an I-visa by virtue of her marriage, my concerns are not about whether the government has the right to detain and even prosecute those who violate our immigration laws. My concerns are about overreaching government conduct. The case she recounts where another journalist (a conservative) was denied entry at the border because his honorarium was too large, for example, adds to the concerns over this visa and its associated regulations and their enforcement, even granting that some reporters "bring it on themselves".

  3. Of course mouthing off doesn't justify abuse. It is stupid, though not as stupid as traveling to another country without easily-available work papers and making false declarations on a basic entry form. And it does justify being treated with suspicion.

    There are stories that highlight abuse in USCIS and that bring into question our immigration policies. This story is not one of them. She throws a tantrum when her luggage is searched (huh?), and pointedly distorts her own actions that made her suspicious. Born in Russia, British passport, claims to be a journalist after signing an I-94 saying she isn't, and has no work visa--gee, I guess they should just wave her on through?

  4. Yet hers isn't the only story. Let's not lose sight of the forest.

  5. Let's not lose sight of the forest.Absolutely. I'd just rather not use this particular lame, counterproductive tree as an example.

  6. As I mentioned above, "I've been way too busy with "real life" stuff to track down all of the details." Let's call it "Hell Week".