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Monday, July 5, 2004

America: We deport writers!

Yesterday's New York Times Book Review certainly dampened my July Fourth good feeling. Elena Lappin describes America's new response to writers from our most closely allied country:

Two months ago, I traveled from London to Los Angeles on assignment for a British paper, The Guardian, believing that as a British citizen I did not require a visa. I was wrong: as a journalist, even from a country that has a visa waiver agreement with the United States, I should have applied for a so-called I (for information) visa. Because I had not, I was interrogated for four hours, body searched, fingerprinted, photographed, handcuffed and forced to spend the night in a cell in a detention facility in central Los Angeles, and another day as a detainee at the airport before flying back to London. My humiliating and physically very uncomfortable detention lasted 26 hours.

And then there's the case of British novelist Ian McEwan (whose novel Enduring Love I especially like):

Laura Bush admires his books so much that he was invited to a lunch she had with Prime Minister Tony Blair at No. 10 Downing Street in the fall of last year. Several months later, when McEwan traveled to the United States via Canada to address an audience of 2,500 in Seattle, he was refused entry by American immigration officials at the Vancouver airport. (Their explanation was that his $5,000 honorarium was too high for him to qualify for the visa waiver program.) The 36-hour crisis — which would have resulted in his detention had it occurred on American instead of Canadian soil — was finally resolved with the help of British and American diplomats, members of Congress, journalists and immigration lawyers.

''We don't want to let you in, we don't think you should come in,'' McEwan recalls being told by an immigration official. ''But you have powerful allies and we don't like the publicity.'' McEwan began his Seattle talk by wryly thanking the Department of Homeland Security ''for protecting the American public from British novelists.''

Our government seems to have taken the aphorism "The pen is mightier than the sword" a bit too literally. There isn't an ounce of good sense in treating writers this way, even if there's some value in requiring a particular sort of visa. (Although I'm not convinced that there is.) Lappin concludes her essay by suggesting that "in the name of fighting terrorism, [the USA Patriot Act] has transformed a free, open, inimitably attractive democracy into something resembling an insular fortress of Kafkaesque absurdity." That makes me angry.

("Your country is safe from me," Elena Lappin, New York Times Book Review 7.5.04, reg req'd)

Copyright © 2004 by Philocrites | Posted 5 July 2004 at 12:34 PM

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July 6, 2004 12:38 AM | Permalink for this comment


They've been doing this to foreign journalists since 9/11. Does it make any sense? No, but making sense has not been a specialty of the Bush administration.

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