I was deported from the USA
Over the last 35 years I have travelled to the USA dozens of times and never, ever had any
problem with the authorities there. I have family and friends in the USA and visited frequently.
Until April 2010. In spite of my history and of traveling with a visa issued by USA
consular authorities I was detained and then refused entry and deported.
One of the reasons of my visit was to visit my elderly aunt who was in bad health and not expected
to live long. She died shortly after and I was not able to see her or attend her funeral.
From my arrival at 8 PM until 4 AM, for eight hours, I was mistreated, humiliated and
abused. I was questioned over and over about the same ridiculous things. Then I was
locked up in a cell and finally put on a flight back to Europe. No explanation was
given even though I asked.
It was a terrible experience and the stress left me with physical and psychological
consequences which required medical treatment. Not to mention the lost air fare
and the total wreck of my holiday plans.
While I find there is no objective reason to deny me entrance my main complaint is
regarding the demeaning and humiliating treatment I received which is just inadmissible
in any civilized country. Even if there were some objective reason to deny me entry,
which there isn't, there is no excuse for the mistreatment.
I wrote the American Consulate in Madrid which issued my visa but got no response.
How is it possible that the American Consulate issued me a visa and then, when I arrive
in America they determine I am not admissible? Do they have different criteria for
admissibility? How is this possible?
I wrote the Department of Homeland Security telling my ordeal in detail and after six
months got a canned response made with pasted boilerplate which does not in any way
address what happened to me. It is so badly made that part of a paragraph is missing
and no one noticed, probably because they did not even read it.
I have also written to several Spanish authorities but have received no response.
I have written telling my story to several newspapers and TV networks but no response.
Due to this kind of treatment of visitors America has lost visitors over the years (surprise!).
To remedy this the
Corporation for Travel Promotion Board was created. Its objective is to promote foreign
visitors to the USA. I thought they might be interested in my story so I wrote them. No reply.
Since I was refused any explanation I have no idea why I was treated like that and deported.
I can only think of two possible explanations. One is that I was mistaken for someone else
because my name or similar name appears on some secret list. Since I was not informed
of this there is no way I can correct any erroneous information. Another explanation,
the most likely in my opinion, is just that the officials have free rein and I just had the
bad luck of dealing with a
crazy unreasonable person. I tried asking if I
could talk to a supervisor but it was all in vain.
The moral of the story is that what happened to me does not surprise anyone and no one cares,
probably because it is not uncommon. If you travel to the USA it could happen to you. Be warned.
This is what I wrote to someone who had a similar story:
It happened to me and I am sure it happens every day. You just don’t hear about it. If it is someone of some importance the story will get some publicity in their home country but most of the time not even that. But you can be sure these things happen daily.
Over the previous 35 years I had travelled to the USA dozens of times and never, ever had any problem with the authorities there. I have close family and friends in the USA and visited frequently. Other than a traffic ticket or two a long time ago I never had any brush with the law.
In early 2010, in spite of my history and of traveling with a visa issued by USA consular authorities I was detained at the airport, abused for eight hours, locked up for another ten and then deported back to Europe. My visa was cancelled without explanation. It was a terrifying experience.
One of the reasons of my visit was to visit my elderly aunt, my father’s elder sister, who was in bad health and not expected to live long. She died shortly after and I was not able to see her or attend her funeral.
From my arrival at 8 PM until 4 AM, for eight hours, I was mistreated, humiliated and abused. I was questioned over and over about the same ridiculous things. Then I was locked up in a cell and finally put on a flight back to Europe. No explanation was given even though I asked. The attitude was “We’re the Government. We don’t give explanations. We don’t have to. We don’t care. We are the American Government.” In reality they were lowly paid nobodies who had a power trip at the expense of some hapless tourist. Yeah, maybe I am a nobody here but I can ruin someone’s day easily. This is the kind of thing you might expect in some third world country, not in the first world.
They never told me that the decision had already been made to deport me. They questioned me on and on about the most ridiculous things. Over and over. They would humiliate me with insults. I was made to stand at attention like I was in the army. They left me in my shirtsleeves and it was cold but I was not allowed to put my hands in my pockets. I could not touch my own stuff and had to watch while they carelessly went through it, took things away and later brought them back. They ripped apart the covers of a bound book. They totally messed up my things. A couple of trainees just watched and went along in silence. One of them later asked me why would I travel to a country where I knew I could be treated like this. She seemed totally outside her role and kind of surprised by what was going on. You could tell her educational level was hamburger-flipping level.
Whey are these things not recorded on video? Today the cost is nothing, and video recording is everywhere. Why are these proceedings and abuses not recorded? Everybody knows why. Everybody knows what’s going on. It’s the dirty little secret no one talks about. Who cares about dirty foreigners?
The whole thing was ridiculous. They did not bother calling the person I would be staying with to verify. He is an old man in his eighties and he was outraged. He later spent a lot of effort writing his congressman and all he got was form letters and finally a recommendation that I apply for a visa again. You cannot be serious. I already spent a day and more than $200 to get a visa and it was worthless and now you tell me to just try again? Fuck that!
I could tell the whole thing was a sham. It was my turn in the barrel, that was all. The entire questioning was confrontational and bullying. Over and over they would ask me what dates I had last been in the country and expected me to remember them by heart to the day. They have the dates, they know full well, they are just trying to badger me into a mistake which they will label a lie and then I’m done. Still they did not trip me but it made no difference. They would accuse me of having overstayed my visa in the past (without specifying) and tell me I was in deep trouble. Of course, I knew they were lying. I know full well it is not true and their only purpose is to scare me into thinking I’m in trouble. Still, all along I thought everything would become clear in the end and I would be let go. It was not to be.
They would ask over and over why I had two digital cameras like there was something sinister or suspicious about it (I had an older model and had just bought a new one). I had printed and bound the manual for the new camera. It was destroyed to see if it was hiding something. I was carrying some epoxy glue and I was asked over and over what I intended to do with it. I showed them that I had already repaired the handle of suitcase twice with that epoxi glue but it did not matter. The questions were repeated over and over in the most confrontational manner.
My papers, documents, credit card, and my laptop were taken away and copied and searched. At least I was lucky that they were returned to me as I know of cases were they were laptops and money were confiscated.
Other times I have entered the country I have seen people in distress, a young woman crying and sobbing, a man handcuffed to a bench and sleeping on the floor like he had been there for days. I did not really understand the depth of the individual tragedies that were going on until it happened to me.
Thank goodness I was calm and respectful all along (I was exhausted after the trip and the wait). Had I freaked out or lost my patience I would be one of those you see in the news, tasered or beaten up. All in the name of freedom.
They asked me who was picking me up and I said my girlfriend was waiting outside. They called her and questioned her and on finding out she was a non-citizen resident threatened her and told her to disappear. They told me my story and hers did not match. Of course they did match. They were lying to me and I knew it. There was nothing for us to hide and we both told the truth. Even after they told her I would not be let in they still questioned me for hours not telling me the decision had been made. In fact, the person who made the decision went home and I was left in the hand of others who told me they had no say. I could not talk to a supervisor or anybody else. I was just there so a bunch of people with nothing better to do could get their kicks abusing me. The whole purpose of what they were doing to me was to intimidate me and scare the shit out of me and it was very effective. They made me feel like dirt which was their intention. They make it clear you are their whim and mercy and they could lock you up as long as they wanted.
After sessions with the “bad” cops I would get sessions with the “good” cops. Except it was all a waste of time. The good cops were not trying to get anything from me. They really just had nothing better to do than chat with me. And that was just as humiliating if not more.
At no moment was there anything that a reasonable person could think indicated I could be a threat. The consulate had looked at me and my papers and granted me a visa but these people could deny me entry without explanation. Not only that, they could abuse me for hours without any reason or responsibility. I have never felt worse in my life. I am a law-abiding person. I am not a kid, I am in my mid fifties. Traveling to a civilized country should not mean this kind of risk.
I offered to post bail to guarantee my timely departure or my appearance before any authority but it was no use.
I asked for consular assistance, as I am entitled to, but was threatened with being sent away to jail because “we have no place for you here”. Rights? Yeah. Sure. We don’t have time for that shit at the airport. We’ll send you off to some jail where you can wait for days or weeks. Is that what you want?
I was denied food even though I offered to pay for it because “this is not a restaurant”. The whole thing was pointless abuse. For hours they questioned me and just randomly went through my stuff when they were bored. Every bit of paper I had was photocopied, my laptop was inspected. They only good thing I can say is that they did not steal anything as I feared. Still, they were so careless that When I got back home I found they had put in my luggage something which did not belong to me. Some poor soul must still be wondering what happened to it. Even worse, they made me repack my luggage in seconds and a knife which is a prohibited item went into my hand luggage. Since I did not go though security when they took me to the plane the next day I found out at mid flight that I had a prohibited knife in my hand luggage. When I arrived in London and told the cops there that I had just arrived from Washington DC with a knife on me they could not believe it.
While I find there is no reason to deny me entry my main complaint is regarding the demeaning and humiliating treatment I received which is just inadmissible in any civilized country. Even if there were some objective reason to deny me entry, which there isn't, there is no excuse for the mistreatment.
It was a terrible experience and the stress left me with physical and psychological consequences which required medical treatment. Not to mention the lost cost of getting the visa, air fare, etc. and the total wreck of my holiday plans.
I wrote the American Consulate which issued my visa but got no response. Why? How is it possible that the American Consulate issued me a visa and then, when I arrive in America they determine I am not admissible? Do they have different criteria for admissibility? How is this possible? Nobody could care less.
I wrote the Department of Homeland Security telling my ordeal in detail and after six months got a canned response made with pasted boilerplate which does not in any way address what happened to me. It is so badly made that part of a paragraph is missing and no one noticed, probably because they did not even read it. Everybody knows that the people who process these papers and even those who process people are low paid, insufficiently qualified drones. Nobody cares that the result is unfair pain for a lot of people.
I have written telling my story to several newspapers and TV networks but got no response.
Due to this kind of treatment of visitors America has lost visitors over the years (surprise!). To remedy this the Corporation for Travel Promotion Board was created. Its objective is to promote foreign visitors to the USA. I thought they might be interested in my story so I wrote them. No reply. They just do their thing which is to take money and spend it. They do not care that people are being abused.
Since I was refused any explanation I have no idea why I was treated like that and deported. I can only think of two possible explanations. One is that I was mistaken for someone else because my name or similar name appears on some secret list. Since I was not informed of this there is no way I can correct any erroneous information. Another explanation, the most likely in my opinion, is just that the officials have free rein and I just had the bad luck of dealing with a crazy unreasonable person. I tried asking if I could talk to a supervisor but it was all in vain. The first person you talk to has right of life or death over you and you cannot talk to anyone else. I thought my story was so clear
The moral of the story is that what happened to me does not surprise anyone and no one cares, probably because it is not uncommon.
For weeks and months I had nightmares and could not sleep well. I was traumatized.
For some years I had been doing some consulting supporting sales of American telecom equipment in Europe. I immediately quit because I’ll be damned if I’m going to help sell American products any more. Things were already difficult for them but I am petty enough that I take some degree of satisfaction seeing that their share of business has gone downhill fast.
My life has been pretty much turned upside down. I have belongings in the US, which I will lose in all or in the greater part as recovering them will probably cost more than they are worth. I cannot visit my girlfriend and she needs to spend most of her time there due to job and family obligations so the future is looking pretty difficult for us.
This incident has seriously affected my relations with most of my American friends and family, both in America and in Europe. Some of them are quite tea-partyish and the last thing I need is to have to put up with that kind of shit.
There is a very strong anti-foreigner climate in America, an us vs. them mentality, which creates the conditions for ignorant, low-paid workers to perpetrate the abuse with impunity while the Government and the Country look the other way.
Some people will rationalize pretty much anything their government does. Whether it is mistreating Jews or Muslims or Chinese or Blacks or any other group, people will explain that in reality it is not as bad as reality shows, it is only anecdotal, exceptional cases, and they are justified by a need to defend nation and culture against enemy infestation. That there must be more to the story or the authorities would not do something so wrong. That the benevolent American authorities would not treat someone like a criminal unless they had good reason to. That we do not know all the story, only one side of it. Of course the other side only has to say they will not talk due to “security reasons” and they are safe. They are pretty much unaccountable. That it is not really a “punishment” as foreigners have no right to enter the country. The fact that America is asking people to visit and that people spend money and make plans and are then mistreated and deported means nothing to those who will find a reasoning to support the most horrible excesses. They do not want to accept the obvious conclusion that their country is doing wrong. To them the fact that one said the wrong word or has the wrong attitude is enough to warrant the most extreme punishment. Just don’t call it punishment.
Since I have been telling my stories I have heard a few bad experiences from other people although not as bad as mine.
I just wish European authorities would have some guts and would start reciprocating. You think Americans abroad could not be caught in all sorts of technicalities? Seeing how many Americans overstay their visas here it would be fun to see a few of them thrown in jail. Seeing how many American exchange students get drunk and rowdy and obnoxious it would be fun to see them start being shipped back home and lose their semester and their money. I am sure Americans who defend the abuses by American authorities would promptly find reasons why what other countries were doing was all wrong.
No, not really. I do not want the EU to start being assholes. I want America to stop being assholes but that seems to be a lost cause.
There is NO large, industrialized, advanced country on earth where your chances of being mistreated by the authorities for no reason are so high. None.
America has lost millions of visitors and they say they want them back. America is spending millions in promotional campaigns in Europe telling people to visit America. Wouldn’t it be easier and cheaper to stop mistreating your visitors? America shoots itself in the foot with one hand and then tries to apply a band aid with the other. Over the years I have spent many, many tens of thousands of dollars in America. Obviously America does not want my money any more.
I, on the other hand have told my story and my experience to hundreds of people and many more than that if you count those who read my blog. I see a lot of hits from people searching who have had similar experiences and I have received a few emails of support and commiseration.
How much money does America have to spend to counter the stories of people like me? One guy with a large sign and a personal story to tell carries much more weight than an ad plastered to a bus stop or wall which costs hundreds or thousands of dollars. I do my best to have my story known and published because it is the only thing I can do.
I remember traveling to communist countries before the fall of communism and it was a given that government and officials in those countries would be jerks to visitors just to show that they could and to show who was in charge. I remember waiting in the blistering sun in the car to enter Hungary. We were waiting behind some barrier for something, maybe just for the pass to open. We were very thirsty and there was a fountain a couple meters past the barrier but the guard would not let us get water from the fountain until we had cleared passports and customs. You could tell he was on a petty power trip. Communist countries used to be the assholes of the world in the way they treated foreigners and now it seems America has taken over the role. Communist countries felt under attack from the west and were defensive. Now America feels under attack from the rest of the world and gets defensive and mistreats people just because they can. Making enemies is not a good defense strategy but that I what America is doing, making enemies left and right. It is sad and America is losing visitors, trade and their good image abroad.
I travelled to the USA all during the Cold War and there was never anything like this. It was always a friendly country. There was none of this anti-foreign feeling that permeates American society today.
Now the American government fosters a climate of fear, of the country being under attack, and this creates xenophobia and is good for the authorities because the people will support them and is good for “defense” industries and other powerful interests but it is bad for the country as a whole.
Today, if you are a European traveling to the USA, the fact is that the statistical chances that the authorities there will seriously ruin your trip are astronomically higher than being the victim of terrorists or being harassed by the authorities of authoritarian, “non-free”, countries like China or Cuba. I guess it’s the “killing the village in order to save it” mentality.
Most Americans don’t know or care that this is going on. They think it is fine as long as it is done to non-citizens but are outraged when once in a while it happens to a citizen by mistake. They are outraged when any other country does anything similar to Americans. Americans as a country have one standard for themselves and a very different one for the rest of the world.
America used to be a country where I thought on the whole I could expect to be treated decently. Now decency counts for nothing and only “legality” counts. The most heinous behavior is OK as long as it is legal and the law makes all sorts of abuses legal. For many people there is no wrong, there is only legal. The fact that it ruins people’s lives for no good reason is immaterial so long as it is legal. And they make sure pretty much anything is legal, including torture and indefinite prison. It’s legal so it can’t be wrong, that’s their reasoning.
That’s my story. I know most Americans could not care less, a large part think there must be something I did to deserve this, and a very small few do not like it but are unable to do anything to change things. I have not read the thread and do not intend to participate. I know it is useless as nobody will change their mind and I do not want to hear those who think what was done to me was fine. I just wish them something similar so they may know how it feels like. For me it was traumatic so I’ll stay away from America and try to forget what happened.
In the few weeks this page has been posted I have received quite a bit of feedback.
A couple of idiots wrote me to say I was lying and the whole thing was made up.
I imagine many people who did not write have similar views or at least think I am not telling
all the relevant truth because American authorities must have a good reason to do what they did.
It must be painful to accept that "the land of the free" is, in fact, quickly becoming what
they most despised and criticized, a police state, and so it is easier to pretend it is not happening.
Oh well, as we say in Spanish, nobody is more blind than those who do not want to see.
If there is any lie or distortion in what I have posted it would be easy enough for American
authorities to point it out but they have chosen to not answer my questions. I would
certainly post any answers I received from them. My case is not unique at all; in fact,
it is quite common as an Internet search will show.
Some others have written to tell me about abuse by TSA employees and about
items missing from their luggage. I am well aware that there are many cases like these
and the victims have my sympathy but my incident was not with TSA. I know there are plenty of
cases of TSA abuse but that was
not my case. You can imagine though that if that is the way TSA treats American citizens how
much more free rein the authorities have to abuse non-citizens.
I have also heard a couple of stories very similar to mine. In one case they made the victim
log on to their email online which they did not do to me, I guess because I keep all my email on my
laptop and they did not need to. You should be aware of the
many cases of laptops being confiscated by US customs.
This has been going on for quite some years now and some corporations prohibit their employees from
taking any corporate information in their laptops when they go trough customs.
My impression is that once they are asking you for your email password they have already decided not
to let you in and you are wasting your time by cooperating (except, of course, that they can
confiscate the laptop).
Abuse of non-citizens by American immigration authorities is not new either.
The abuse has been going on for many years now. Back in 2000 the Oregonian published a
very complete report about the abuses and corruption of the INS. Thanks for bringing those
pages to my attention.
Another case that was brought to my attention was about Customs confiscating money from travelers.
I suppose I can consider myself lucky that it did not happen to me but you should be aware that it
is legal for authorities in America to confiscate money or other belongings without any kind of
judicial process of law. Many people do not know this because they are not familiar with
asset forfeiture laws.
In summary, the police or customs can take your money or other assets by saying they think it may
be involved in a crime. They do not have to be specific and they do not have to get the
authorization of a judge. They just take it and the victim needs to start legal proceedings
if he wants to try to recover his property. In the case I was told about Customs confiscated
$15,000 USD from an American (citizens) family leaving the USA which also made them miss their flight
and it was a nightmare. The victims paid a lawyer several hundred dollars for an initial
consultation to recover the money but finally decided they would not risk spending maybe thousands
of dollars maybe for nothing if they did not recover the money in the end. So you should be
aware that the authorities can legally take your money and/or your stuff without due process.
They can do this because legally it is not considered a punishment. Be warned. If they
do this regularly to American citizens and they have little recourse just imagine how much recourse
a non-citizen might have. None.
The sloppiness and unprofessionalism with which they act is just astounding and would even be funny
if the consequences were not so grave. When I was given back my belongings there was included
a card which was not mine and which contained some names and addresses. Some other unlucky
victim of USCIS must be missing this card somewhere. When I was escorted to the airplane
which would take me back to Europe I was carrying a knife in my hand luggage which was forbidden
but since I did not go through security it was never detected. It was in my checked luggage
when I arrived in the USA but later they made me pack all my luggage in a great hurry and I just
had to push things in a hurry where ever they could fit. I did not realize that the knife
was in my hand luggage until I was well into the flight. When I arrived in London and told the
screeners there that I had just arrived from America with a knife in my hand luggage they were
in disbelief and got a good chuckle out of it. Of course, I had to check it before I could
get on my connecting flight.
The people who have gone through this ordeal tell the same story of officials abusing and badgering
them, of accusing them of lying and of threatening them. Well, yes, they are just fishing and
hoping you will break down and confess to something, they have no idea what. The will badger
you for hours in the hope that you will contradict yourself on even the most minute detail.
For instance, they asked me several times about the keys I was carrying. What were they for?
(My apartment in Madrid.) After several times of receiving the same answer one officer accusingly
asked me why was I carrying them to America. Well, how am I supposed to get back into my apartment
when I return? Duh! It does not matter, what they are trying to do is detect the least
contradiction or lie and they have you under
18 U.S.C. Section 1001
for lying to government agents.
You would think that having nothing to hide and telling the truth would be a good thing but you
will be harassed, abused and then deported anyway.
Even though this page is receiving quite a few visits daily I have no illusions that it will have any
substantial effect. There are hundreds or thousands of pages out there telling of similar stories
of abuse and they have no effect so I am well aware that this is just a drop in the sea.
America has gone crazy. Most Americans do not travel and those who do just hope they will
not have the bad luck to be the victims. Nobody could care less about the abuse of non-citizens.
America has lost a lot of visitors and they do not seem to understand why.
America has gone crazy and we will just have to wait for reason and common sense to return.
In the meanwhile my advice is just to avoid going there. If you are looking for a holiday
I would suggest China where I have been traveling more and more often in recent years as things
got more uncomfortable in America. Chinese authorities have always been respectful and
professional with me and there is nothing like the harassment you see in America. If you
add in the lower prices in China you have a very attractive destination.