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British journalist expelled from U.S. over visa issue

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British journalist expelled from U.S. over visa issue

  • A British freelance reporter was detained and expelled from the U.S. upon her arrival at Los Angeles International Airport for not having a special visa for working journalists.

May 5, 2004 — A British freelance writer was expelled from the United States yesterday for not having a “journalist” visa upon arriving at Los Angeles International Airport.

Elena Lappin, who lives in London, arrived in California on Monday — ironically, World Press Freedom Day — to write a story for the British daily newspaper The Guardian . She was questioned, had her possessions searched and was taken in handcuffs to an area detention center where she spent the night. Lappin, 50, was put on a flight back to London yesterday afternoon.

According to Mike Fleming, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Customs & Border Protection, Lappin was held in a detention center overnight because there was no available flight back to London Monday evening.

Lappin edited the Jewish Quarterly from 1994 to 1997, and has written for such British publications as The Guardian , The Daily Telegraph and The Times of London . Her work has appeared in The New York Observer and on Slate.com; she is the author a book of short stories titled “Foreign Brides,” published in 1999. Lappin could not be reached for comment.

Journalists coming to the United States for business must obtain an I-visa from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services bureau, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security. The bureau does offer a visa waiver program that allows citizens from 27 “friendly” nations to travel to the U.S. for up to 90 days for tourism or business without a visa. However, the waiver program does not apply to members of the foreign news media, who must apply for a special I-visa.

The Paris-based media organization Reporters Without Borders sent a letter of protest today to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, criticizing Lappin’s detention. “There is no justification for treating journalists like criminals,” wrote Robert Menard, the group’s secretary-general.

The American Society of Newspaper Editors sent a letter to Secretary of State Colin Powell on April 29 asking that he encourage Congress to amend the Immigration and Nationality Act, under which the I-visa program exists, to allow foreign journalists to freely enter the country for “short-term assignments.”

“Over the past 12 months, a number of foreign journalists have been seized at our borders and deported forcibly to their home countries,” wrote ASNE President Karla Garrett Harshaw, of the Springfield (Ohio) News-Sun . “Many have been mistreated and prevented from making telephone calls that could have clarified their status, violating diplomatic rules concerning nationals arrested in a foreign country.”

Thirteen journalists were detained and expelled from the U.S. upon arrival last year, according to Reporters Without Borders.

JL


© 2004 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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