Friday, December 21, 2007

I Went to New York City And All I Got Were These Leg Cuffs

Eva Ósk Arnardóttir had been looking forward to her shopping and Christmas break in New York City with a few other Icelandic women. But when their plane landed it turned out that she had a previous visa violation:

Last Sunday I and a few other girls began our trip to New York. We were going to shop and enjoy the Christmas spirit. We made ourselves comfortable on first class, drank white wine and looked forward to go shopping, eat good food and enjoy life. When we landed at JFK airport the traditional clearance process began.

We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.

Not that odd, you might say. She did, after all, outstay her welcome earlier. Laws must be honored. Quite. And would you send someone like that to spend a night in prison before the deportation? According to Ósk Arnardóttir that is what happened to her next:

I was exhausted, tired and hungry. I didn't understand the officials' conduct, for they were treating me like a very dangerous criminal. Soon thereafter I was removed from the cubicle and two armed guards placed me up against a wall. A chain was fastened around my waist and I was handcuffed to the chain. Then my legs were placed in chains. I asked for permission to make a telephone call but they refused. So secured, I was taken from the airport terminal in full sight of everybody. I have seldom felt so bad, so humiliated and all because I had taken a longer vacation than allowed under the law.

They would not tell me where they were taking me. The trip took close to one hour and although I couldn't see clearly outside the vehicle I knew that we had crossed over into New Jersey. We ended up in front of a jail. I could hardly believe that this was happening. Was I really about to be jailed? I was led inside in the chains and there yet another interrogation session ensued. I was fingerprinted once again and photographed. I was made to undergo a medical examnination, I was searched and then I was placed in a jail cell. I was asked absurd questions such as: When did you have your last period? What do you believe in? Have you ever tried to commit suicide?

It sounds like a police state to me. Of course we don't have the story from the authorities yet (or at least I couldn't find one), and it could be that Ósk Arnardóttir is a dangerous criminal or that she attacked the people who interrogated her or something like that. But if her only crime was to have overstayed her visa over ten years ago, well, I for one would recommend that foreign tourists stay out of this country, never mind the cheap dollar right now. Yes, even if those foreign tourists are squeaky clean, because records can be wrong and someone else can have the same name and you might end up leg-cuffed, too.

My guess is that her experiences are one of the fruits we are now harvesting because of the fear of illegal immigration and terrorism. The irony is that she is not exactly a member of those groups we are supposed to fear.
Thanks to Swampcracker for the link.