The Times 29 June
- June 29, 2002
Barred Berkoff accuses US of terror hysteria
By Guyon Espiner
STEVEN BERKOFF has accused the American authorities of “post September 11
hysteria” after he was deported this week for overstaying his visa by a day
five years ago.
Berkoff, who has played nemesis to stars ranging from Eddie Murphy to
Sylvester Stallone, met his match in the form of an immigration clerk. “An
overzealous immigration officer, desperate to make his mark on the world,
discovered that I had overstayed the period of my visa in 1997 by 24 hours,”
Berkoff, 64, was to have performed his one-man show, Shakespeare’s Villains,
at a festival in Ann Arbor, Michigan, on Wednesday but found himself bundled
back to London where he offered a scathing critique of US immigration.
“Unbelievable as this may seem to humans who are half-civilised,” he said,
“this trivial infringement was enough in the post September 11 hysteria to
give this lowly clerk with a gun holster the right to play God. I was kept
back, shadowed like a criminal and put straight on a plane back to the UK.
“When we landed, it was a great relief to be back in civilisation and to be
greeted at UK Immigration and Customs with a perfunctory glimpse at my
passport and a welcome ride home.”
Berkoff, a theatre actor and director whose film credits include Rambo:
First Blood Part Two, A Clockwork Orange and Beverly Hills Cop, has been a
regular visitor to America over 20 years.
“I wrote a memorial for September 11 in the form of a long poem, which I was
invited to read on the anniversary of the disaster. The irony is that this
now seems unlikely.”
Berkoff said that immigration officials had lost perspective since the
terrorist attacks. “The US immigration officer had explained that since
September 11 every bit of information to do with one’s previous visits has
been downloaded and must be taken into account,” he said.
“So while they throw the baby out with the bathwater, they have alienated a
great ally of the United States.”
Evy Warshawski, the festival director, said that Berkoff was enraged at
being detained by immigration officials at Detroit Metropolitan Airport. “He
kept telling them ‘I’m not a terrorist, I’m an actor’,” he said.
Mr Warshawski said that Berkoff called to say how sorry he was about the
incident, which forced festival organisers to cancel Wednesday’s show and a
performance at Grand Rapids on Thursday. “But he’s not just sad, he’s mad.”
A spokeswoman for the US Immigration Department said that Berkoff had been
sent back to Britain because of a “deficiency in his documentation”, but
declined to elaborate.
Media Consultant, writer on Foreign Affairs