How to Expel Journalists

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If you need reminding that America is not quite so bad as other countries, look no further than this story about a New York Times reporter being kicked out of Brazil for criticizing President Luiz In?cio Lula da Silva.

The article, written by Larry Rohter, the Rio de Janeiro bureau chief, and published on Sunday, reported publicly expressed concerns about Mr. da Silva's drinking habits. It said, "Some of his countrymen have begun wondering if their president's predilection for strong drink is affecting his performance in office."

The Brazilian president, making the classic mistake of confusing his person with his office, called the article "a malicious assault on the institution of the presidency."

In the U.S., thank goodness, we base our expulsion of reporters on random enforcement of nonsensical old immigration regulations, not content. The latest such case happened last week at LAX, when British journalist Elena Lappin, who has traveled to the States often without ever being hassled (her husband is American, and she lived here from 1989-93), was stopped, searched, cuffed, driven to a downtown Los Angeles detention center, and sent back home, all for the sin of admitting she was a journalist (as opposed to a tourist, in which case she would have been let right on through). From Lappin's account:

from the moment the decision to deport me was made, I was treated like a dangerous criminal without any basic rights. I was groped and searched. I was fingerprinted; mug shots were taken. Then, with my hands handcuffed behind my back ? a particularly painful and demeaning method ? I was taken through the airport to a van. Walking handcuffed among free LAX passengers was an indescribably strange experience; more than anything, it brought home the Kafkaesque fact that I was now a prisoner.

Later, I was to spend the night in a "detention tank" behind a thick glass wall, without a chair or bed. It contained only two steel benches, about 15 inches wide, a steel toilet and sink (all in full view of anyone passing by and of the camera observing all), a glaring neon light and a Big Brother-controlled television playing a shopping (!) channel all night. I found it hard to breathe in this human fish tank, yet knocking on the glass, repeatedly, brought no help. When a security officer finally walked by and I shouted through the door that I felt unwell, he wasn't interested.

Virginia Kice, spokeswoman for Immigration and Customs Enforcement, explained Lappin's handcuffing thusly:

"It's for their safety, for the safety of our officers and the safety of any other individuals who might be in the vehicle."

Too true. Because if history has taught us anything, it's that terrorists stupid enough to pose as easily verifiable journalists instead of just waltzing in on a tourist visa are a particularly grave threat to our safety?. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick has a good column on all of this, including some surprising personal testimony on the unique challenges of entering this country repeatedly as a non-citizen.

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  1. She was a foreigner breaking our laws. You’re either with us or against us, and clearly a foreigner (a Euro-weenie, no less!) breaking our laws must be against us.

    She should just be glad she wasn’t subject to even worse treatment. As so many H&R posters will be happy to outline in great legal detail, the Executive Branch has the right to do whatever it wants to prisoners except in the limited circumstances where the Bill of Rights applies. The fact that we didn’t treat her like the Saudis would is just proof that we’re the best country on earth.

    America–Hey, it could be worse!

  2. Lithwick’s Slate column does a good job of showing how arbitrary, mean, and counter-productive these laws and their enforcement are. I like her description of INS as “a Third World agency operating in a First World nation.” It reminds me of some of my experiences and those of friends in Kenya and South America – when you’ve got to deal with some govt agency, usually it works out OK, but not because of anything you can do to prepare for or mitigate the situation.

    My girlfriend is from Germany and visits Europe and Africa with some regularity, and there’s always a fear in the back of my mind when she leaves. She’s completely legal (as far as we can reasonably know), but that doesn’t seem to matter too much in the eyes of INS and Customs. It’s “no way to win a war” or run an open, tolerant, civilized country.

  3. Thoreau, do you have anything useful to add, or are you just going to tilt at windmills at the top of every comment section until H&R dies?

  4. Thoreau seems to just like to have fun, what’s the problem?

    I think it’s great that if you simply state that you’re a tourist, bingo!, you’re in. I really don’t get the procedure here. So far, I haven’t had any hassles during a flight, even when I went to the Winter Olympics in Utah, but some of these stories you read really make you scratch your head.

  5. are you just going to tilt at windmills

    Josh-

    I dream the impossible dream. I believe that those windmills really are giants, and I am slaying might monsters!

  6. Quoth thoreau: …the Executive Branch has the right to do whatever it wants to prisoners except in the limited circumstances where the Bill of Rights applies.

    Funny, but I was under the impression that the Bill of Rights applied semper et ubique in this the Land of the Putatively Free and the Home of the Too-Infrequently Brave. Moreover, since the Constitution and the relevant amendments thereto speak only of persons and not citizens, those provisions should have applied in this case as well.

  7. serves the bloody british right — everyone knows british journalism is a shambles — she’d probably just be making up some story about how bad we treat Iraqis or something ridiculous.

    I can’t imagine what they do the Robert Fisks of the world…

  8. Michael-

    Post around here a little longer and you’ll eventually encounter some posters who will argue that the Bill of Rights doesn’t apply to non-citizens, accused terrorists, anybody taken into US gov’t custody on foreign soil, and probably various other categories of offenders. They’ll quote you various court rulings. Then in other threads they’ll complain about judges rewriting the Constitution to mean whatever they want it to mean.

  9. And will anyone ever give a shit enough to change the situation? Seems to me, the more incompetent and grotesque INS becomes the safer people feel.

  10. Thank God that terrorists all wear those 3″ diameter badges that say “Hi! I’m a terrorist – may I kill you?” Otherwise how would we ever cope?
    As for visitor’s rights, I frankly don’t think visitors have the right to insult the host country or to interfere in the host country’s political affairs. I would, however, consider reciprocity whereby we granted priveleges to visiters equal to those we would receive in their country.

  11. Walter — If your reciprocity was the standard, we would drop the “journalist visa” requirement for citizens of all democratic countries. As for terrorists, all they have to do to avoid Lappin’s fate is to not declare themselves as journalists. Can you see maybe how this enforcement would likely not capture any terrorists?

  12. Interesting country, Brazil. A few months ago, they fined an American $17,000 for giving air traffic security people the finger:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/stories/2004/01/12/world/main592699.shtml

  13. Walter said: ?As for visitor’s rights, I frankly don’t think visitors have the right to insult the host country or to interfere in the host country’s political affairs.?

    One journalist who was held for 15 hours and strip-searched was here to interview Olivia Newton-John. Others who were deported were here to cover a video game convention. They certainly weren?t here to insult the US or interfere in our political affairs. And the one who wrote that Slate article was pointing out some glaring faults in our travel and immigration laws (and their enforcement). She was pointing out that she has made every reasonable effort (and more) to ensure that her status here is legal, but that she could be tossed out or locked up tomorrow for completely arbitrary or unclear reasons. That may qualify as insulting or interfering in your book, but it seems justified to me.

    Leaving aside the question of a foreigner?s legal right to insult or interfere in our affairs (and how it would be determined what is interference), it strikes me as more than a little bit petty and paranoid to only welcome visitors if they?re willing to completely ignore our many flaws. And it doesn?t really seem too consistent with what I would consider some of the important ideals of this country. (To a lesser extent, I think the same is true for the reciprocity standard you suggest.)

  14. Walter Wallis-

    You ever miss those co-workers of yours back when you had that job “minding” journalists in North Korea? Well, those guys miss you too.

    You should go back.

  15. “And will anyone ever give a shit enough to change the situation? Seems to me, the more incompetent and grotesque INS becomes the safer people feel.”

    The major barrier to reforming the INS/CIS or whatever they’re calling it now is that, by definition, its clientele is composed of non-citizens — i.e., non-voters. Native born Americans only get exposed to its horrors if they get the subversive notion of marrying a non-American (hence, I would imagine, Matt W.’s interest in the subject). So it’s unlikely that there’s ever going to be a big political movement to reform a bureaucracy whose victims are mostly politically irrelevant.

    On a different note, I’m always perplexed when I hear long-term residents like Dahlia Lithwick (20 years) complaining at their continuing mistreatment by the INS, when they are perfectly eligible to take out U.S. citizenship, which generally does not require giving up other nationalities held (certainly not for Canadians). I myself cannot imagine being a long-term resident of any country without pursuing citizenship, regardless of how insecure I felt my position was without it. (At a lunch with a professor of mine whose background is quite sensationally cosmopolitan, a friend of mine asked him how many citizenships he had. He replied, “As many as I can get,” which seems like a sensible enough attitude.) If the mean bad INS is as awful as everyone says (and as I’m sure it actually indeed is), what’s holding them back?

  16. I was under the impression that the Bill of Rights applied semper et ubique in this the Land of the Putatively Free and the Home of the Too-Infrequently Brave.

    Not so: for that period between stepping off the plane (or off the ship, or out of the car) and getting your passport stamped, the Bill of Rights don’t mean shit.

    And the big problem with the Elena Lappin case is what happens when you have a set of immigration regulations that are too convoluted for the grunts on the ground to bother reading. The I visa is designed for reporters who actually live in the US while under contract to a news organization, and receive payment from a non-US source. Lappin was a freelancer visiting the US to write a single piece. And the US Embassy in London is pretty explicit about saying that the I visa requirement shouldn’t have applied to her:

    Please note that freelance journalists will only be considered for the “I” visa classification if they are under contract to a media organization.

    And ‘under contract’ in this context means ‘working for six months’. I know. I’ve done the paperwork.

    As for visitor’s rights, I frankly don’t think visitors have the right to insult the host country

    Hey, Walter: I’m in the US right now, and I think it’s run by a bunch of criminals and incompetents. Try and find me, won’tcha?

  17. Evan,
    Another barrier to reform is the anti-immigration lobby who like things the way they are (but are unlikely to come out and admit it in so many words). If anything, they would like the INS to behave even more harshly and arbitrarily.

  18. I’m always perplexed when I hear long-term residents like Dahlia Lithwick (20 years) complaining at their continuing mistreatment by the INS, when they are perfectly eligible to take out U.S. citizenship, which generally does not require giving up other nationalities held (certainly not for Canadians).

    It’s that little disclaimer in your passport that says: ‘If you’re a citizen of another country, you can’t be protected by this country against the actions of that country, and you may also be liable to obligations such as military service or using a Diebold machine to vote.’

    Dual citizenship has its swings and its roundabouts.

    But like you said, Evan, INS/CIS reform that isn’t about restrictions or further criminalization of immigrants will never be an election issue — not just because the people affected are either ineligible to vote, or among the minority who marry or employ or adopt foreigners; but also because once someone’s cleared the CIS and got a US passport, s/he’s never likely to want to think about the process again.

  19. American: a great place to live, but i wouldn’t want to visit.

  20. I’m not happy journalists are getting the treatment by ICE, but I do think that they’re more likely than anyone else to publicize how cumbersome and arbitrary the immigration system is. And that might cause things to change. That’s inordinately optimistic, of course, but I know nobody writes Slate articles when ICE detains one of my clients.

  21. Three things:

    1. haven’t seen it in the English-speaking press, but Lula is reconsidering the judgment against this journalist, if the NYT apologizes for calling him a drunk;

    2. Brazil has all these nasty laws on their books back when they were still a military state; they just don’t enforce most of them nowadays. The airline pilot was held on the charge of “resisting authority”, or similar nonsense.

    3. It’s slander – I know several Brazilians, one who used to work in the federal government, and the alcoholism rumors whispered about in the article are complete bullshit (not to mention grossly unsubstantiated).

    4. I for one would be very curious, if the Sunday NYT had an article in the front section wondering at length if Dubya is drinking again, what the White Houses’ reaction would be.

  22. I’m still waiting to see how hassling and detaining and tossing out people who are so obviously NOT a threat to this country (i.e. the jourmalist interviewing Olivia N-J, etc) or pissing on a bunch of French video game journalists is making me any safer now than before.

    We can slur them all we like, but it does not change the fact that a hardcore committed bad guy or gal can slip right through our system, posing as a wealthy tourist or a scrubby college kid with a backpack. Just so long as they don’t have a pen and paper, they’ll get right in.

    So how is it we’re safe again? I forgot.

  23. Greg,

    Your mistake is assuming that the reasons given for something are the same as the actual reason for doing it. This has nothing to do with “fighting terrorism,” just like half the lawyers done “for the kids” have anything to do with kids. Its just an easy excuse that cannot be safely challenged and allows these individuals to justify actions that they want done for other reasons. Another example, how much of the PATRIOT Act has been used to “fight terrorism?”

    As for the actual reason for doing this I can only guess. It is probably a combination of individuals being bullies, general dislike of reporters (especially any that might look like they will report the “bad” news), and an effort to be seen as doing something to look like they are working harder to stop terrorism. Note this is not to stop terrorism, but to look like they are trying.

  24. After the illiterate preznit “reads” the bill of rights, he will tell all citizens & foreigners how it protects only guns, fetus’s, & guvment money for Uncle Dick’s employer. If he decides you’re a godless commie terrorist, the bill of rights doesn’t exist for you.

  25. I don’t know what this journalist is whining about. What about 9/11? What about Saddam? He had rape rooms!

    oh… uh… but his were WORSE! So there, nyah nyah nyah!

  26. I believe that commercial visiters to The United Kingdom and other civilized nations need work permits or other documentation that indicates their desire to comply with the laws of the guest nation, or to give a clear indication they are there as a tourist.
    My last visit to North Korea I was doing good work, killing Communists. Not sure whether any of them were journalists. Not sure I would be welcome back.

  27. One of the early comments made me think of Mark Twain’s comment about Richard Wagner’s music (“I understand it’s not as bad as it sounds”), and I suddenly realized we have a new slogan for the US.

    “We’re not as bad as we act.”

    Ed

  28. Walter said: “I believe that commercial visiters to The United Kingdom and other civilized nations need work permits or other documentation that indicates their desire to comply with the laws of the guest nation, or to give a clear indication they are there as a tourist.”

    No one we’re talking about was out of compliance with our laws (not counting unintelligible or unreasonable ones related to travel and immigration). And the whole point of this discussion is why in the world should they have indicate they’re journalists, and why in the world should journalists require a special visa?

  29. I believe that commercial visiters to The United Kingdom and other civilized nations need work permits or other documentation that indicates their desire to comply with the laws of the guest nation, or to give a clear indication they are there as a tourist.

    Um, no. If you’re an American making a short-term business visit and are employed outside the UK, you need neither a visa nor a work permit, although you do need evidence of your intention to leave, and proof of funds. As with most countries.

    If you’re on a long-term journalistic posting, you go through the standard entry clearance system: overseas correspondents are officially classed as work permit-free. As for your mumbo-jumbo about ‘documentation that indicates their desire to comply with the laws of the guest nation’… I really have no idea what you’re talking about. A letter from their mother?

    Anyway, the fact that US embassies have been in the habit of disqualifying freelance journos without long-term contracts with news orgs from receiving an I visa, but officers at points of entry decide, unilaterally, that those journalists do, in fact, require an I visa, shows the fucked-upness of the US immigration system.

    (Apparently now, uncontracted freelancers ‘may’ be classed as businesses, according to the US Consul in London. But you’ll have to cough up the ?100 for a B1 visa application to find out. Non-refundable, of course. And expect this guidance to change next week. Or be contradicted by DHS.)

    Additionally, it’s quite telling that the UK actually makes it easier for foreign correspondents to work there, in the pay of a foreign employer, than for other workers; whereas the US makes it harder.

  30. I don’t care how many non-citizen journos Gates hires for Slate, why does that page have to give the SCOTUS beat to a frostback? 🙂

    ISTR that even Peter Jennings has finally decided to take out a U.S. passport. There must have been a delay in getting his Palestinian Authority paperwork.

    Kevin
    (Despite anti-journalist grumpiness, still wants to see Calgary take the Cup)

  31. Compare and contrast.

    1) To cover a story in America earlier this year, I spend an hour filling in the forms – listing EVERY country I’ve been to in the last ten years (Jesus, don’t these people know that in most of Europe you can’t go to the bathroom without clearing customs). I eventually get an appointment. Then I line up for an hour in freezing temperatures before another two hours in line inside the US embassy in London. I pay $100 and get a perfunctory interview and my visa. When I land at JFK I get fingerprinted.

    2) I going to Israel – a country with just a teensy-weensy bit more experience of terrorism than the United States, right? – to cover a story this week. So I’ve bought a ticket. What other special steps do I have go through? None, nada, zilch!

    Gabriel

  32. Commenting on the article “How to expel journalists” I wonder why do we people elect the most “populist”, pathetic, and doubtful “leaders” to rule our countries. It seems to be a global phenomenum. In some countries, some rulers play the role of dictators, even though having achieving their positions by democratic means. In others, they play the role of world guardians invading countries by obscure reasons. As far as I can see, interesting country Brazil. And interesting country USA.

  33. Just another way the Brazil case was different: The brazilian supreme court said the NYT guy couldn?t be expelled, so he wasn?t.

  34. The official word on how to renew your ‘I’ visa is at:-

    http://travel.state.gov/ireval.html

    Maybe someone can read it, figure out what it means, and tell the rest of us in a way that we can all understand.

    Jounalists are not the only people to fall foul of the system. Any defect in paperwork can cause you problems “with extreme predudice”. The system is Byzantine, arbitary, inhumane and unfair, its not worthy of a country that prides itself on its freedoms.

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