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.