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  • Tom Mooney
    HOMELAND SECURITYReturn to SenderWhen American authorities can shackle, jail, humiliate and deport a plain British tourist, the question has to be asked: What
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 3, 2004

      HOMELAND SECURITY

      Return to Sender

      When American authorities can shackle, jail, humiliate and deport a plain British tourist, the question has to be asked: What has the U.S. become post-9/11?

      By Rosi Hygate
      Rosi Hygate, who was raised and educated in Britain, is a naturalized American citizen.

      February 1, 2004

      After nearly 10 years, my brother John was coming to Los Angeles from England to see me. Our mother had recently died, so it seemed especially important to be together. He would help me celebrate my birthday, then we would travel to Northern California.

      John arrived at LAX at 2:45 p.m. on a Thursday afternoon last month. That was as close as he got to seeing me. After inspecting his passport, immigration officials informed him that there was a problem.

      About 26 years ago, he was convicted in Britain of cocaine possession. He paid the required fine and never touched drugs again. In fact, he went on to work for more than 20 years for the British government as a prison liaison officer. But that wasn't good enough for the U.S.

      Over the two days that followed his arrival, he was searched five times, fingerprinted 10 times and photographed again and again. Not until nearly three hours after he was originally detained was John even allowed to call me. By that time, I was extremely worried. On the phone, he asked me not to speak because he was not permitted to talk long or tell me anything other than that he was being sent back to the U.K. "I'm here and they are sending me back," he said.

      Then the call was abruptly terminated. I subsequently found out that he had been handcuffed at the time, and the phone had been pulled away.

      I was terrified and confused about what to do. My 58-year-old brother is a diabetic with high blood pressure and a heart condition. He is a solid, law-abiding citizen.

      I immediately called a good immigration attorney, assuming things could be quickly resolved. I was shocked by what I learned. In this country, in the post-9/11 era, my brother has no rights, not even the right to go before a judge to plead his case. Nothing could be done. As the attorney said: "This is what immigration lawyers are up against under the Patriot Act."

      Government officials testifying last week before the federal commission investigating the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks described reforms they say have tightened U.S. border security. But it seems like it should be possible to screen out genuine terrorist threats while still allowing tourists from Britain, our closest ally in the Iraq war, to visit family members here.

      My brother, I know anecdotally, is not alone in being stopped at the border, and I suspect the problem is bigger than any of us realizes.

      After my brother's phone call, I assumed he had been sent home. So the next day, I started calling him in the UK. There was no answer. My brother's daughter and my younger brother had not heard from him either. I was frantic. Was he in a hospital somewhere? Had he been detained?

      My travel agent managed to get through to officials at United (the airline he flew in on) and learned that he had been taken to a "facility" in downtown Los Angeles. It was more than 24 hours after he was first taken into custody that we heard he was en route from downtown back to LAX for a 5:30 p.m. flight to London. I asked to speak to him at the airport. My request was denied.

      I did not learn the complete story until my brother was once again on British soil. After being detained handcuffed and searched at LAX on Thursday afternoon, he was confined to a fairly comfortable room until 1 a.m. Friday. He was then moved to a jail facility in Los Angeles, where for nine hours he was placed in a holding cell with a sloping stainless steel bench designed to prevent anyone from lying down.

      Sometime Friday afternoon he was taken back to LAX in handcuffs, paraded through the airport on legs now swollen from his diabetes and held back until all the other passengers had boarded. He was then walked down the aisle of the plane, still in handcuffs, and placed next to a terrified woman who had to be reassured that he was not dangerous. His passport was confiscated and given to a flight attendant, who kept it until the plane landed in London.

      John was told by U.S. officials that if he had arranged for a visa before departing the UK, this whole thing would not have happened. Yet, according to the State Department, England is part of the visa waiver program that allows British citizens to come to the U.S. as tourists without visas.

      One immigration officer suggested that John go to the U.S. Embassy in London, get a visa and return to the U.S. John's reply saddens me. He said, "My sister loves your country. I will never set foot in it again."

      After an 11-hour flight, his swollen legs made worse by the confinement of a transcontinental flight, John arrived home. The British immigration officer who met him (he had to remain in his seat until all passengers had disembarked) apologized for what had happened, returned his passport and sent him home.

      I have lived in the U.S. for 20 years. I became a citizen because I am proud of this country. I am disappointed in the way my country behaved toward my brother.

      The British have been staunch allies of the U.S. But from my vantage point, it appears the loyalty goes in just one direction.
       
       

      (In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. t r u t h o u t has no affiliation whatsoever with the originator of this article nor is t r u t h o u t endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)

      peace,
      Tom


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