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QUOTATION: People often say that, in a democracy, decisions are made by a majority of the people. Of course, that is not true. Decisions are made by a majority of those who make themselves heard and who vote - a very different thing. - Walter H. Judd

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2004-07-18 - 1:42 p.m.

Welcome to America

From today’s Sacramento Bee, an editorial entitled, “Welcome, Now Get Out”

The Bush administration is spending tens of millions of dollars to refurbish America's badly battered image abroad. Cancel the contracts. It's not going to work and Elena Lappin is one reason why.

Lappin, a British citizen, arrived at Los Angeles airport and in short order was searched and interrogated, jailed in a small barren cell, allowed minimum food and drink - and 26 hours later deported.

The experience might have gone unremarked, but Lappin, as it happens, is a journalist and wrote about her rude and inexcusable treatment at length in the July 4th New York Times Book Review and at even greater length and damning detail in the July 5th issue of the prestigious British paper, The Guardian (www.guardian.co.uk).

Although the editorial written by Dale McFeatters goes on to explain that Lappin had come to U.S. on a freelance assignment for the Guardian with no visa, as journalists from the 27 visa waiver countries have long done, her column gives far more detail. “Lappin is no anti-American polemicist. She has lived in this country, is married to an American and is the mother of an American.” She was, however, born in Russia, although she had never lived there, claimed to be British, and had lived in many countries.

“Since September ll, 2001,” she writes, “any traveler to the U.S. is treated as a potential security risk. The Patriot Act, introduced 45 days after 9/11, contains a chapter on Protecting the Border, with a detailed section on Enhanced Immigration Provision, in which the paragraph on Visa Security and Integrity follows those relating to protection against terrorism.” One of the innovations requires journalists to apply for a special visa, known as I-visa, when visiting the US for professional reasons. She writes her opinion of how far the government has gone with the Patriot Act: "In the process of trying to develop a foolproof system of protecting itself against genuine threats, the U.S. lost the ability to distinguish between friend and foe. The price this powerful country is paying for living in fear is the price of its civil liberties."

She was questioned like a common criminal, handcuffed, body searched, then incarcerated in a prison cell for 26 hours with no bed, no chair, only two steel benches about a foot wide. There was a toilet in full view of anyone passing by and a video camera watching her every move. No pillow, no blanket. A permanent fluorescent light and a television in one corner of the ceiling that was tuned to a shopping channel and left on all night. As she says in her article, “Though my experience was far removed from the images of real torture and abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, it was also, as one American friend put it, “conceptually related” at distant ends of the same continuum and dictated by a disregard for the humanity of those deemed “in the wrong.”

She had to go back to London to apply for a journalist’s visa. Not an isolated incident, this appeared to be “part of a systemic policy of harassing media representatives from 27 friendly countries whose citizens – not journalists! – can travel to the US without a visa for 90 days.” Thirteen journalists were similarly deported last year, twelve of them from LAX. And why, one might ask.

The good news: as a result of outrage caused by Lappin’s article in The Guardian, the press office at the department of homeland security recently issued a memo announcing new guidelines. Although I-visas are still required, Port Directors have discretion when it comes to allowing journalists to enter the country without one, if they are not deemed a threat to our security.

The pen is mightier than the sword!

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