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June 8, 2004 10:14 AM   Subscribe

British journalist strip searched and tossed in the pokey for the crime of not knowing about a never enforced 1952 law requiring "special" journalist visas. And she's not alone...according to Reporters with out Borders, the US has deported 15 reporters, 10 of those from LAX. Reporters must now provide a letter from their employer detailing their assignment, and the INS gets to decide who is allowed to report, and who isn't.
posted by dejah420 (48 comments total)
Sounds more like "newly enforced" than "never enforced".

I thought the INS was defunct now.
posted by smackfu at 10:18 AM on June 8, 2004

My personal experience is that stories like this are having a huge impact on people's perception of the US in Europe. Europeans are starting to think that the US is a risky place for them to visit. People I know who work for IBM, Pfizer, and Sun have told me that they have avoided any business travel to the US in the last couple of years. No one that I know in Europe would consider taking a vacation there right now, despite how cheap the US is because of the fall of the dollar.
posted by fuzz at 10:35 AM on June 8, 2004

We can no longer afford the free exchange of information, much less the "truth." Thoughts must be controlled, or who knows what might happen.
posted by rushmc at 11:04 AM on June 8, 2004

Swedish journalist Erik Hansson was arrested for not having a journalist visa when he arrived at Los Angeles airport on 13 May to report on the trade fair for several newspapers and magazines. Several colleagues who also did not have visas were not arrested. Hansson was kept in an unheated room and then questioned. Twelve hours later, he was taken in handcuffs to a police detention centre. The next day he was taken back to the airport where he was held in a cell for nine hours before being deported to Sweden.

this guy went to L.A. to cover the E3. he's a writes about fucking video games. what a threat to society!
from what I heard the other Swedes in his group were savvy enough not to say they were journalists. this guy, being somewhat of a newbie, was honest. and got fucked.
poor bastard.
posted by mr.marx at 11:14 AM on June 8, 2004

I know of a few people travelling to the US this summer, but you're right fuzz: the British perception of the US has changed massively. I get the feeling it's now seen not so much as a home of liberty but as considerably less free than other places. People talk of our laws getting as bad as the US's, when it's always been the other way around.

And that's in what, three years? Way to ruin a legacy.
posted by bonaldi at 11:15 AM on June 8, 2004

The TSA is doing a horrible job. Read this:

Reason Magazine Article
posted by 4midori at 11:17 AM on June 8, 2004

The journalist-visa requirement is stupid and to me, looks like an obvious Cold War leftover which is now being conveniently resurrected so that BushCo can be seen to be "doing something about terrorism" without actually doing anything much. Nevertheless, she did try to enter a country without the proper visa. It is ultimately her responsibility to make sure she complies with the entrance requirements wherever she is going--and in this case, I think the Guardian is a bit responsible, as well. I'd be surprised if they did not know about this change and they should have warned all their reporters about it.

However, there is absolutely no excuse whatsoever for the way she was treated. I agree with the other posters who've commented on the European perceptions and particularly on the British perception of the US as a place to visit. I have seen this too. People are choosing to spend their time and money elsewhere, because the US is beginning to be seen as a slightly dangerous place to go.

Hell, I'm American and I have begun avoiding the United States...I have heard too many tales of expat Yanks being detained by Homeland Security and heavily questioned along the lines of, "Why did you leave America? What do you do there?" I even know of one person whose choice of marriage partner was questioned, on the basis that she should have found an American to marry.

The whole thing is just sad.
posted by Tholian at 11:40 AM on June 8, 2004

memo to the Guardian editors:

learn to be more fair and balanced, or we'll throw your reporters in jail
posted by matteo at 11:42 AM on June 8, 2004

Jebuz...from 4midori's link: But agency spokesman Brian Turmail dismissed the concerns: "The bottom line is: If you're not a terrorist, you don't need to worry about this."

That whole article is freaking spooky.

Reading articles like that one and some others that have been linked on Mefi lately makes me so incredibly, gut-wrenchingly sad.

How did we lose the beautiful social experiment that once was the Land of the Free? I weep for what my country has become, for how she has been defiled, how her laws for equality and justice has been perverted into power for bullies, fear-mongers, and petty tyrants.

I weep for those of us held prisoner in our own country without charges and with no form of redress, denied access to transportation because we had the audacity to voice opinions not sanctioned by the current regime.

I weep for the future generations of Americans who will never know what it was like to have the freedoms their ancestors died to preserve.

I weep that a country that was once a beacon of hope and enlightment is now shrouded under the veil of secrecy and totalitarianism. And there is no end in sight. Our choices in November are hardly choices at all. Christian Fundamental Totalitarian, or Totalitarian Lite. Woo.

Sigh. You know, maybe the terrorists did win after all.
posted by dejah420 at 11:42 AM on June 8, 2004

Let me get this straight: She's a reporter for an internationally acclaimed publication, she's a citizen of our only true ally in the world, she's married to an American citizen, her daughter is and American citizen, and she formerly had permanent residency status, and yet she is treated like she is a terrorist.

I blame Clinton!...no wait...time to reread some Orwell, I think it's going to come in handy in the near future.

By the way, can't the TSA and INS hire some agents who are at least civil to their detainees? Or, are they all frustrated cops who can't wait to get their hands (and batons) on some bad guys?
posted by mygoditsbob at 11:43 AM on June 8, 2004

she's lucky she didn't end up on the cast of "Guantanamo Baywatch"
posted by muppetboy at 11:46 AM on June 8, 2004

It is not the same thing to be truly suspected of being a terrorist as is it to supposedly "flaunt" an immigration law that might relate in some way to anti-terrorism, and yet it seems to me that the attitude towards this journalist has roots in a "no tolerance" policy which treats both offences as equivalent, or at least gives the US officials an excuse to be as hellish as they feel like that day. Or is this an example of a "making an example" policy; i.e. "tell all your friends: don't f*** with us"? Or do these workers get their kicks from victimising journalists because they know the US is being written about in very unflattering colours at the moment?

Whatever the reasons (and I have immense trouble beginning to understand what they might be) this makes me feel sick with anger and fear.
posted by suleikacasilda at 12:01 PM on June 8, 2004

The irony is that it is only "countries like Iran" (for example, Cuba, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe) that have a visa requirement for journalists. It is unheard of in open societies, and, in spite of now being enforced in the US, is still so obscure that most journalists are not familiar with it.

Not so unheard of in open societies like Brazil, India, Belgium, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Italy, France...?
posted by techgnollogic at 12:05 PM on June 8, 2004

I am a freelance journalist in Spain, should I have attended E3 this year, I would have had to go to Madrid (600km) because the USA consulate in Barcelona, where I live, doesn't issue that visa. Put that in top of that you are not assured the visa.

I didn't come to L.A. this year for other reasons, and I wonder if next year I will take the risk...

(not to mention I am running a site about energy resources where we inevitably wrote about the Bush administration!, we even translate articles from From The Wilderness!!!!)

I am sorry if I did a mess with some English verbs, wanted to post, fast!
posted by samelborp at 12:09 PM on June 8, 2004

techgnollogic: Most of those appear to be for getting press passes or special access, not for being allowed into the country while being a journalist.
posted by fvw at 12:13 PM on June 8, 2004

Tholian, your last paragraph is making me re-evaluate a planned trip back later this summer. Jeebus. And I thought going through Heathrow was a slight pain in the ass...
posted by romakimmy at 12:46 PM on June 8, 2004

technologic: your argument sems to be that because these other countries - Brazil, India, Belgium, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, Italy, France..FRANCE!??! - do it, its ok?

Can't you think of a more convincing argument? We are your allies, FFS!
posted by dash_slot- at 12:46 PM on June 8, 2004

technollogic's france link ìs for accreditation to the normandie celebrations. and the italy link states that "Members of the foreign press are among the special categories of workers who do not require a work permit to work in Italy.".

try again.
posted by mr.marx at 12:50 PM on June 8, 2004

I don't need to "try again." Her characterization of special visa regulations an procedures for journalists as something "unheard of in open societies," something that only Axis of Evil countries, and tyrannies and communist dictatorships do, is FALSE.
posted by techgnollogic at 2:25 PM on June 8, 2004

Yeah, at least techgnollogic's France and Italy links are about press accrediation, not journalists visas, and most of them seem to be about how to obtain a visa when you're a journalist. This case is about a person otherwise not needing a visa needing one because she is a journalist. According to the Belgium link, some journalists who would otherwise not need a visa and are not EU citizend might need a visa to enter Belgium.

At least in my eyes, USA has for a long time had only an illusion of greater freedom than Europe and even that illusion is now shattering.
posted by lazy-ville at 2:37 PM on June 8, 2004

Oops. I meant "flout", not "flaunt".
posted by suleikacasilda at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2004

We just know you foreigners must be up to something devious, since no one in their right mind would want to visit this Orwellian shithole of mind-warping totalitarianism for honest, harmless reasons.
posted by techgnollogic at 2:47 PM on June 8, 2004

Your opinions are about as convincing as your flimsy links, technologic.

I say that as an ally, of course.
posted by dash_slot- at 2:52 PM on June 8, 2004

That was a joke, ally.
posted by techgnollogic at 2:57 PM on June 8, 2004

From the article:

Before I could approach to observe them doing this, the officer who had originally referred me to his supervisor was unzipping my suitcase and rummaging inside. For the first time, I raised my voice: "How dare you touch my private things?"

I think the author was incredibly foolish. By the time I got to the end of that article, I was convinced that she pissed off the officers *personally*, and they decided to make her life hell *personally*. Customs and Immigration people are dangerous at the best of times. Doing anything other than consistently sucking up to them, no matter how stupid and arbitrary they are, is just a bad idea.
posted by Armitage Shanks at 3:01 PM on June 8, 2004

Others have pointed out that requiring accreditation to a specific event is normal and very different from requiring a special visa to enter the country to perform interviews and similar routine journalism.

But the real irony of posting the link to information about press accreditation to the commemoration of the Normandy landings as an example of immoderate foreign practice is that requirements were almost certainly more strict than usual at the insistence of the US. Anything that GWB is attending is locked down far tighter than other events.

As for whether the journalist was foolish, it maybe that her past experiences gave her false expectations. In my own (unscientific and anecdotal) experience there has been a vast change in one's perception of the experience of entering the US. It used to be a matter of dealing with bureaucracy, now it's a matter of dealing with law enforcement.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 3:25 PM on June 8, 2004

I withdraw my previous statement

techgnollogic _is_ as funny as FreedomParamus
posted by matteo at 3:26 PM on June 8, 2004

I've just returned from 2 months in the western states of the US and it was fine. The problem isn't so much the security issues but the creeping paranoia & bullshit propoganda in the media & culture. There were times when listening to talk radio felt like it must have done in 30's Germany. Not nice at all.
posted by i_cola at 3:29 PM on June 8, 2004

I resolved not to travel to the USA unless I absolutely had to back when they deported that Canadian travelling on a Canadian passport to Syria. And he wasn't even trying to enter the US only switching planes.

This just confirms the rightness of my decision. Anyone know what percentage of tourist dollars spent in the USA is not from American citizens? Could be looking at quite the hit to the bottom line. I know that if the Japanese ceased travelling to BC it would be devastating to many tourist operations.
posted by Mitheral at 3:34 PM on June 8, 2004

Something similar happened last year to the editor of an Australian women's magazine.

Personally, I will never set foot in the United States again. Between being fingerprinted on entry, no guarantee of any rights while being detained and requiring a bio-passport it is not worth it when I can just as easily go via Asia, Canada or Mexico.
posted by X-00 at 3:47 PM on June 8, 2004

Utter, utter bullshit.

I've seen drunk drivers get treated better than this.

i_cola: did you visit colorado during your travels?
posted by Stynxno at 4:02 PM on June 8, 2004

A fish rots from the head down.
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 4:04 PM on June 8, 2004

Oceania has never been at war with Eastasia
Journalists have always been required to get an I-visa
War is Peace
Freedom is Slavery
Ignorance is Strength.
posted by seanyboy at 4:25 PM on June 8, 2004

God, yes, this sucks and is terrible etc. but could everyone please stop quoting 1984? Jesus Christ. It's not witty. It's not making a point. It doesn't express anything that hasn't been expressed six million times before since the Patriot Act was signed. God! You're just fucking up the signal to noise ratio a little more every time you do it. Express your sentiment without a cliche every bit as limp and exhausted as gooey emails about who carried who along a beach.

That said, god. This administration is going to drive me to become a hardcore nutter fuck-the-poor libertarian. Government just can't be trusted with the power to govern.
posted by kavasa at 5:08 PM on June 8, 2004

Wanna see questions U.S. asks to journalists ? Skip to END.

Belgium : As soon as a journalist has learnt of his/her assignment, he/she should contact the Belgian diplomatic authorities closest to his/her place of residence. The documents listed below are required by lawfor recognition of the status of professional journalist.

Brasil: Foreigners travelling to Brazil as journalists (non correspondents), TV and filming crews require this type of visa. Nationals of the following countries, whose stay in Brazil will not exceed 90 days and who will not receive any payment in the country, are exempted from this type of visa: list of countries which curiously excludes U.S. The wording is a little ambiguous, but given that all the text falls under the category Visa-For-Journalist it is reasonable to assume that journalist on a short work trip (majority I guess) can do without the visa. Also, the page recommends asking J-Visa because it speeds up paperwork if you need to bring professional equipement with you (cameras,etc)

France: the link provided by techno refers to accreditation procedure, this link is from the France Embassy in U.S. (doh!). Journalist require a visa , you can see all the info they ask on the special visa.

Italy: Besides accrediting foreign correspondents in Italy, the Office also handles registration and entry of Italian and foreign journalists for international meetings and summits which are held in Italy; it runs Accreditation Offices at meeting sites; it accredits Italian journalists for events outside the country; and it runs a data base of foreign journalists and media in Italy. It seems like it's only needed for accreditation (in other words, if you wanna go at an official meeting as an official foreign journalist you gotta be in that database. That follows italian guidelines, in fact you can't start your own journal in .it as of today without the supervision of one registered journalist..it's a bunch of legalese for resposability if you say Person X is evil etc.

Indonesia: a little strict, as the journalist is required to send the Govt a copy of "his proposed article/report" , send a full lenght-report (details not specified) to the Govt and must report when arriving and when leaving. I wonder if they're going to refuse the visa if the proposed article isn't "a-ok".

Papua:All applications for the above two (2) categories require the approval of the Secretary of Foreign Affairs.
The request for approval to enter Papua New Guinea should be sought in advance of the request for visa being presented at the Embassy.The agency in Papua New Guinea having established where the visit will take place and the purpose of the visit, should formally request for the visa from the Immigration Division. It seems like prior disclosure and approval is necessary. Strict I'd say.

U.S. Special Visa for Journalists. You can read the PDF of the application here
Among the things they want you to declare :

1. have you got experience in explosives, nuclear stuff ?
2. Charitable organizations you to which you belong,work,contribute in the present or in the past
3. List of all the educational institutions you attended or are attending except elementary schools
4. Clan or Tribe name :-) Yeah really, tooooo funny.

Oh I am joking too ! Eeheh ! Oh and if you can't take a joke remember to sing " I didn't laugh at elpapa joke" next time you enter my sovereign area.

As for the cops who handled the girl , assuming she's telling the truth and is not in the Liiiiiiiberal Meeediuz , what do you expect from $5 rent a cop, professionalism ? Gimme a break. What's scary is it seems their head is very deeply stuck into their asses and with enormous bias.
posted by elpapacito at 7:51 PM on June 8, 2004

Two brazilian journalists were detained and deported last october. Their crime? They were by invited by Warner Brothers to watch Matrix Revolutions and tried entering the US with tourist visas.

It is pretty clear that having a visa does not guarantee anything.
posted by ig at 8:18 PM on June 8, 2004

Ok. Let's step back here and look at the newly-revised guidance that the US Consulate in London gives to British journalists:

Representatives of the foreign media traveling on assignment to the United States require “I” classification visas. They are not eligible to travel visa free under the Visa Waiver Program or enter the United States on B-1 business visas.

But, here's the kicker: Please note that freelance journalists will only be considered for the "I" visa classification if they are under contract to a media organization.

So, if you're a genuine freelancer who sells pieces on a story-by-story basis, rather than someone who's on a short-term contract, you're fucked. (In fact, until recently, 'under contract' basically meant 'six-month contract'; I'm sure plenty of editors have laughed in the faces of freelancers requesting that sort of thing.)

Except that the consulate has said to the Association of British Science Writers that:

"Freelance journalists [and authors] who travel to the US to conduct interviews or to do research on speculation for future publication may qualify for 'B1 business' visas"

But, to cap it off, you won't know whether you qualify for a B1 business visa unless you slap down the non-refundable fee and apply for one. And even then, if you're issued with a B1 business visa, you might get stopped at the immigration desk and deported if the jobsworth in charge decides that you should have an I-visa that you're actually ineligible for.

The point is that the I-visa law is designed for foreign correspondents on long-term assignments -- and it dates from an era when 'our man in Manhattan' took the steamer from Southampton to New York and spent six months on assignment, rather than hop on the 7.30am flight to JFK, interview someone over lunch, and head back home on the 7.30pm flight, writing your notes up on the way.

The nature of journalism as 'work' has changed significantly thanks to the technology of communication and travel; and because of it, uncontracted freelancers fall between the cracks of American visa law. It's not Orwellian, but it sounds like something out of Franz Kafka.
posted by riviera at 8:31 PM on June 8, 2004

It should be remembered that it is not really that long since the US required pretty much all visitors (with a few exceptions like Canadians) to have visas. Twenty years ago all tourists from Britain were required to have one before travelling. Reciprocity is often the way these things are handled (if we don't need a visa to visit you, you don't need one to visit us), which explains Brazil: they are fingerprinting us because we are fingerprinting them. We don't give even their tourists a free ride; they are unpleasant back.

I find treating journalists specially slightly worrying, but it should be noted that they are expecting to work in the host country, even if their employer is elsewhere; they really aren't just tourists. A straightforward requirement to get a simple visa might not be such a big deal if you look at it that way. But in comparing the US requirements to those of other countries (especially those of our traditional European allies), you should look a little further than the does/doesn't require a visa checkbox.

Look at the visa the French require US journalists to apply for, and you see that it is mostly name, address, means of support type stuff, and includes the posibility of multiple entries. It is also important to note that we don't have any indication so far that they back the lack of a visa by imprisonment and immediate deportation. Compare it to the US questions —list every country you have visited in the last ten years, which wars you have been in, everywhere you were educated, all professional and charitable associations— and you see a very different kind of inquiry. And as a further contrast we know that failure to satisfactorily complete this may well lead to a rather unpleasant deportatation experience. In short, you get a very different impression from the two situations.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 9:13 PM on June 8, 2004

Being in the US on an I series visa I can tell you that getting one is always questionable. Two years ago I brought all the documentation I had used in prior years only to be turned down. My degree was no longer good enough. I needed my transcripts. This requirement is not written in any federal regulation or law and is not part of NAFTA but a memo was sent to all entry points and now you must have all your transcripts along with your degree. I called my school and paid for overnight FedEx to get my transcripts. I got my visa.

Last year the young woman looking over my application told me my “unofficial” transcript was not acceptable. I explained that universities only send “official” transcripts to other educational institutions and never to students or alumni. I was held for two hours.
When the supervisor came in he looked things over and asked what the problem was. The agent explained and his reply to her was simple; “why are you doing this to me? I don’t need this.” He stamped my visa and handed it and my documents to me and said sorry for the delay.

Just for fun the young lady had lost my wife’s drivers license. Great fun!
posted by arse_hat at 9:25 PM on June 8, 2004

I find treating journalists specially slightly worrying

I wonder what the historical basis for this kind of unique treatement of journalists is. It seems that the cases coming out of LAX are unique in their degree of harrassment, which seems totally out of line, and some sort of investigation or explanation is totally appropriate, but it seems like lots of countries have some sort of regulation specific to foreign journalists, and I find it hard to believe that the basis and origins of those regulations is in any kind of "hostility towards free foreign press."
posted by techgnollogic at 10:48 PM on June 8, 2004

Styxno: Yes...in from New Mexico to Colorado City & then over Monarch Pass via Bishop's Castle to Montrose, down to Durango via Ourey & out to Moab stopping at Mesa Verde on the way. Stunning views all the way altho' lots of places were still shut...places even the EIB network can't reach ;-)
posted by i_cola at 1:08 AM on June 9, 2004

1. have you got experience in explosives, nuclear stuff ?
2. Charitable organizations you to which you belong,work,contribute in the present or in the past
3. List of all the educational institutions you attended or are attending except elementary schools
4. Clan or Tribe name :-) Yeah really, tooooo funny.

shit, I really thought you was kidding. until I read the pdf.
posted by mr.marx at 1:59 AM on June 9, 2004

My understanding is that the history of the requiring travel documents is, in general, relatively brief. British citizens were only required to have a passport for foreign travel by the Defense of the Realm Act (fondly known as DORA) which was enacted during the First World War. I'm not sure when you first needed a passport to enter the US, though I do know that immigration was fairly open until 1924, so probably other forms of travel were not greatly restricted until then either.

I think part of the reason for the shocked reactions to this is because it is so counter to the the spirit of freedom of the press. The US constitution may only protect citizens, but the spirit behind it is that the free interchange of ideas benefits an open society, a concept that includes exchanging ideas with other cultures and countries. Most other countries do not have the same tradition of press freedom, and regulate even their own press much more closely, a fact that usually results in American feelings of superiority for their more open system. If we are trying to convince other countries to follow our example, what better way than to invite their journalists to come and see for themselves, without restriction?

Though I haven't tried to research its background, a law like this dating from 1952 has to be a result of anti-communist hysteria; the fact that it is being revived now is depressing but not that surprising. It also fits into the pattern of denial and delays of visas for other cultural exchanges, for performing artists and so on. Xenophobia is not new, but the new climate of the "war against terrorism" gives it a whole new currency.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 10:00 AM on June 9, 2004

Gotta love how the USA is building walls around its country.

Any of you really think it's going to work to their advantage? I don't.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:39 AM on June 9, 2004

Come to think of it, any of you figure the USA's recent policies are going to end up just biting the nation in the ass?
posted by five fresh fish at 1:37 PM on June 9, 2004

Come to think of it, any of you figure the USA's recent policies are going to end up just biting the nation in the ass?

I personally have seen a brain-drain happening...I know a lot of people who have already left the country, and a fair amount more that are poised to leave if Bushcorp "wins" the election.

How big the impact will be, and how many leave is yet to be seen...but this is the first time in my life where I've seen many people discuss leaving the country as a safety measure....like unto the Jews who left Germany in the 20's.
posted by dejah420 at 10:56 PM on June 9, 2004

Of for pete's sake... you've got to be kidding. That's the dumbest comparison I've ever heard. I must've missed Bush's speech on the Final Solution to the Intellectuals problem. Get a grip, would you?
posted by techgnollogic at 9:55 AM on June 10, 2004

It's not just the people leaving; it's also the people who aren't going. People like my cousin who just turned down a Pharmist job in Boston because he'd rather make half as much in Canada then risk the apparent crazyness.
posted by Mitheral at 11:12 AM on June 10, 2004

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