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Friday, December 14, 2007

True story...

On Sunday, Erla Osk Arnardottir, an Icelandic woman traveled to JFK with a couple of friends for a day of shopping. Upon landing and going through customs and passport checks, Homeland Security noticed something strange and took her to the side. She had been in the States before(1995) and apparently spent 3 weeks too long. She prolonged her vacation and neglected to prolong her Travel-Visa at the same time. She has been back in the States for a visit in between, but last Sunday they stopped her. Rules and regulations demanded that she'd return to Iceland immediately. At the time, back in 1995, she had no idea of the regulations and did not realize the implications her oversight might bring. She understood however that there were rules and had no objection flying back to Iceland right away.

However, this incidence was followed by 14 hours of strenuous interviewing that was composed of questions nothing to do with the original offence. She was not allowed to call anybody and after sending a quick IM to family and friends on the toilet, the guards took her phone. The right to call the Icelandic embassy was taken without explanation. Despite everything she quickly realized that it would be in her best interest to show maximum co-operation.

After 10 hours of sitting at the airport, two armed guards came and told her to stand against the wall and spread her legs, a chain was placed around her waste and her hands shackled to it. Her feet were tied together and like a murder, rapist or terrorist she was lead through the airport, put into a car and transported without a destination to a prison where she finally received some porridge and bread to eat. The people that surrounded her were rude and hardly spoke to her. Again she requested a phone call, which was allowed this time ...then she realized the phone only took collect calls and it was impossible to call outside of the USA. 9 hours she spent in a dirty cell with a steal bed and a toilet, totally in shock. She felt lost, forlorn without anybody that cares about her knowing where she was. When it was announced to her that she had to return to the airport and fly home immediate relief, until the cold shackles embraced her again.

Followed by armed guards and in shackles she was let through the airport for everyone to see, through the lounge filled with Icelanders when she was finally handed to Icelandair flight personal. She left a place she is in no hurry ever to return to.

In HER BLOG, she describes this incident as the most humiliating, de-humanizing act she has lived through and I can do nothing but send her my most sincere apologies, on whose behalf I just don't know.

I love to travel and am not quite ready to quit this habit. In fact I am leaving for JFK in 4 days and all I am doing right now is trying to convince myself that this is an occurence out of the ordinary. This can't be daily routine.
I remember the first time I landed at JFK back in March and the whole procedure scared me...but I found comfort reading the commitments plastered all over the wall in teh foreign-arrival halls "We will treat you with respect and dignity". I think a different feeling will overcome me when I land there on Monday.
This year I have already been to the States twice. I love the country and I love its people... but I am getting scared.


Posted by Minka :: 12:31 am :: 18 Royal Subjects


At 03:54, Blogger Doug said...

I hate hearing stories like that but, unfortunately, this country is terror addled right now and stuck on stupid.

Something all people traveling here should know: When our constitution was written, the plan was that government would be paid for with tariffs as the only taxes. Fearing smugglers, our laws were written so that our government has to follow foreign laws and treaties outside our borders, has to follow the constitution, with everyone, inside the borders but at the point of entry, there are no rights. That doesn't excuse being idiots but it's something travelers, especially those without U.S. passports should know. Also, once she was in U.S. custody, as soon as she was taken outside the airport, she did have rights. It's just wrong if she wasn't told that.

That was very stupid behavior and God knows it speaks as badly about the chances that we'd catch a terrorist as it does about our hospitality. You do have people to call in the U.S.

At 05:48, Blogger Cindrarella said...

Doug summed it up so well. Truly obnoxious situation, that was. You have friends here. My phone number is emailed to you, and I am confident you will not need it for an emergency, but only for a happy hello.


At 06:47, Blogger I Dive At Night said...

Minka, I'll wait until you come back to share my story. Don't want to scare you (more).

At 09:19, Blogger Theresa said...

This is one of the reasons that I am sometimes ashamed to say I am American to people in Europe. After hearing these sorts of stories, and yes it has happened more than once, people over here don't have such a good opinion of Americans as they used to. I try to explain that most Americans aren't like that, but that the paranoia about terrorism that exists over there right now makes some people do really stupid things. Unfortunately, these kind of things stick in people's minds and are giving America a bad reputation in Europe. You shouldn't worry too much though, because you do have good friends there who would come to your rescue should anything happen. Have a great trip, enjoy yourself, and say hi to all the blogger buddies we have in common. :)

At 14:19, Anonymous neva said...

so i guess this means you'd prefer to see MY face, as opposed to the happy limo driver we planned to send to collect you and your Very Large Bag?

i had not heard this story before, and am beyond shocked and appalled by the ordeal this young woman was forced to endure. a couple of years ago Matt and my (then) 86 year old step-dad traveled together back to California, and were subjected to extensive "patting down"/searches, and i was beside myself with rage. my dad is of Italian decent, but hello? he's an American citizen! fought in WWII for petessake. and Matt? at the time he sported a beard and longer than usual hair, but these two gentle souls hardly fit the "profile" of terrorists.

needless to say, i, too, feel jumpy whenever i travel. not enough to keep me from going anywhere, but still... i wear flip-flops (even in winter) just to make the screening process a bit less... invasive.

no worries, sweet Penguin, you'll arrive safe and sound and we will have a Grand Time, once you get here! : ) xox

At 15:46, Blogger Minka said...

DOUG, see this is precisely my point. How are we to know that. Has the world become such a scary place that whenever and wherever we put our feet here or there, we better have done extensive google- and embassy search to know these laws and rules. Quite frankly i do not like the idea of being subject to just about anything at the airport. The greatest identification of me is that I am a human being, and as such deserve to be treated with the rules and laws established over time that are symbolic of human behavior.

cindra, i am pretty sure this won't happen to me...just as much as this woman once thought these things could never happen to her. But i appreciate teh numbers very much and you will hear from me, under more happy cicumstances :)

Morgan, oh my God...this makes me even more anxious. But it seems you too, lived to tell the tale.

Theresa, I know. I find myself in teh same position, protecting America from generalizations everywhere. With incidents like these it is hard to find footing though. I just checked Icelandair and seats have become available on my flight on Monday, that used to be a fully booked flight three weeks ago.

neva, I think I will be fine, I am just startled. And I don't care if people are American, or Icelanders or Muslims...innocent until proven guilty and once proven guilty the punishment should fit teh crime. I think for overstaying three weeks on a vacation imprisonment and violation of Human rights is too harsh a consequence.

At 18:25, Blogger Doug said...

Minka, don't worry about Morgan's story. He clearly is a terrorist.

At 22:18, Blogger J. D. said...

Hi dear Minka...It used to be a common thing for short weekly trips "over the river" for dinner and a little shopping. We live ten minutes from the Canada/U.S. border at the Niagara River. Recently, friends have waited 2 to 4 hours in long lines to cross. Your crossing perils are now directly related to the common sense and knowledge of the one person with whom you speak...and a world poll last week put Americans and their schools 27th on the "Smart List". I'm proud to say that Canada came 2nd.

I will still fly to my sister's in Florida, but, to be blunt, screw the land to the south of us. They've gone crazy down there, lost respect of the world, toyed with freedom and I don't trust them from the top, down.

There's so much more to say, but, I'm getting angry just thinking of Erla's horrible experience so I better stop........Judy

At 23:41, Blogger tsduff said...

Minka, did you know that I am an American, and subject to the very same searches, restrictions, humiliations et.al. as any foreigner would be? When we returned from NY to California last year, my Sweetie's backpack arrived in the baggage area with the zipper broken, backpack wide open, obviously searched, and wrapped up in a miserable wad of Homeland Security Yellow Tape - I'm surprised the contents didn't fall out. It was a violation in so many ways. I am horrified at the treatment I read about in the news of this Icelandic woman, and would beg to apologize for the treatment she received in our country. I feel that the US is becoming a police country, and I disagree with the policies made by the terror-happy government.

At 01:31, Blogger Cindrarella said...

Hi Minka,

Got your email...happy to know you have my digits and that I have your back. I believe you will arrive safely and have a wonderful time. You'll have to tell me next time you travel so I can line it up with my trek back east and see you as well!

Big hugs, darlin'. If you want some distraction from all this fretful stuff...come over and do a haiku with me.


At 02:04, Blogger Minka said...

Doug, I think you are right. We should use phrenology to determine the exact location of his evilness!

J.D...it seems a bit scary on this side of teh pond these days...there are crazy people out there and I understand the need for protection and additional security...I just think focusing energy on an Icelandic woman for a crime like that, might have slipped two really bad people through because their attention was unnecessarily focused otherwise.

terry, I think the States are still suffering Post-traumatic stress disorder. But your government and laws are on the verge of alienating the rest of the world with an attitude that screams we are bigger and better and we do what we please and 9/11 gave you validation to do so. In your defense, I know there are laws and rules and I do think her being deported was the right solution, any country-if you overstay the Visa- would deport. Since the next flight was 24 hours
later, she had to be kept somewhere, there are procedures for that too. Unfortunately there is just one procedure for heavy criminals and anyone commiting a minor offense will go through the same procedure. That is the point I am trying to argue.

Cindra, it is highly appreciated and I would so love to meet you, it will happen, i have no worries there. For now I am off to bed and I'll see you guys in teh morning :)

At 07:21, Anonymous anonamoeba said...

Minka, I hate to clue you, but

(a) Erla's story took place half a decade before 9/11 (though after the 1st Gulf war)

(b) this sort of thing has been going on throughout American history. And not just with foreign nationals. The sorry story of African Americans goes without saying. But in the 19th century, being German or Irish was just about as bad as being black. And then the industrialists brought in the Chinese and Japanese to work the railroads etc. I've just finished reading Harry Turtledove's Days of Infamy duology, which contained several pointed reminders of American prejudice towards Japanese before (to say nothing about during and after) WWII. Most of that prejudice has gone away. For now.

Terrorist fears are, I think, the smaller part of the issue. The larger is illegal immigration. America has gotten away with high-paying jobs for most of its citizens (apart from chattel and wage slaves, supra) because it has been able to keep labor supply scarce relative to demand. Illegal immigrants are drawn t those high wages, but their presence threaten to make labor less scarce, and thereby drive down wages. Hence, draconian measures to keep "the riffraff" out - measures which We the People generally criticize only because they aren't draconian enough.

In the years after 9/11, some Americans took to wearing "Bush Is Not My President" T-shirts to deflect some of the disrespect they were getting from the people they were visiting outside the USA.

To those people, I say "Bull. He and his are still in office, ain't he?

On behalf of the minority of Americans who are actually aware of their surroundings, I offer apologies to Erla and to you.

And though we are in Hawai'i and might do you less good than others (Neva in particular), we are here if you need us.

At 08:14, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ditto what my partner said.

At 14:08, Blogger Mo'a said...

I have been following this story.
It is s chalenge to travel these days. No matter where you go or who you are...I ring bells everytime I go through security. I show them a card from my Dr. explaining that I have knee replacements...no matter I am taken aside and patted down...this happens in every country I travel to. I just go along...resist joking...have a smile on my face and do everything I am asked to do...so far things have been OK.
Travel safe my dear...you have my phone # I am only two hours away from JFK...I know that Neva and Joel, and all your blog friends would in a NY minute come to your rescue should you need it...I hope you will not need it.
Please call me and let me know when you arrive at Neva's...I won't rest until I know that my favorite Penguin is safe.

At 05:51, Blogger Zhu said...

I can so understand how you feel!!

Before I visit the US, I though that traveling was a right, not a privilege. I was young and innocent and I'm French - I grew up in the Schengen area when no passports are needed. And I backpacked most of the world included so-called "sensitive" countries without problem.

But when I first landed in Houston (and G. Bush airport... I should have known!), I was bare feet, yelled at, questioned etc. Apparently, they didn't like the fact I spent time in Bolivia. For tourism, I swear.

Anyway, since then, I've always hated going through the US customs. I once didn't give back the little green paper they put in your passport, and it was a huge deal the next time I went there. I was sorry, but it was a mistake. Didn't matter.

Things are easier now cause I have all my Canadian ID's. Definitely easier than when I was 100% French.

At 04:07, Blogger G said...

Erla should know that the VAST majority of Americans have a different opinion of Respect and Dignity than what was shown her. What a world is all that I can say. What a dreadful experience for her. Keep calm and know that your friends are all here awaiting your safe arrival. Safe travels.

At 10:20, Blogger Gawpo said...

Minkie, this is terrible. The whole time I was reading your narrative, I felt a horrible guilt as an American. Had she come into that situation in my jurisdiction, I can assure you things would have gone much different. The poor dear. It was outrageous what they did to the poor woman. I am angered and embarrassed beyond belief. I will go to her blog and apologize for "us."

I do hope your travels go well. I was at JFK last month and loved the experience. But I was treated with dignity and respect.

At 13:24, Blogger Minka said...

Thank you guys for understanding, I appreciated the comments very much and am happy to see that most Americans, amongst those all my greta blogger buddies, who are able to see a different perspective and entertain different aspects.


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