The Monday Rant: Detaining Foreign Visitors
So now America is trying to keep European tourists out.
In a shocking story, the New York Times revealed on Wednesday that an Italian man who frequently came to the States to visit his Alexandria girlfriend was denied entry to the U.S. by a customs official at Dulles airport. Customs agents have the discretion to bar entry to anyone who violates certain rules; apparently, the agent suspected that the man, Domenico Salerno, was trying to live here permanently. After Salerno allegedly claimed to be an asylum seeker (a charge he denies), he was shackled and taken to a rural Virginia prison, where he was held for 10 days. Virginia Sen. John W. Warner pleaded for Salerno's release, to no avail, having been called in by Salerno's girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper, and her family.
Salerno's case is shocking, and not just because the detained man is from one of the 27 countries whose citizens are allowed to travel to the U.S. for stays up to 90 days without obtaining a visa (22 of those countries are in Europe; the others are Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Brunei and Japan).
No, it's shocking because for something like this to happen to any innocent tourist, regardless of his or her nationality, is a huge leap backward for our country's tourism industry, not to mention reputation.
The article mentions a woman from Iceland who was detained last December for supposedly overstaying her visa more than 10 years ago. She said she was visiting the U.S. in part to -- guess what? -- go shopping. That's right: She was here to stimulate our economy. Recently, British artist Sebastian Horsley was denied entry because of "moral turptitude" -- he had been arrested for drugs a quarter-century ago, and wrote a memoir describing his sordid past.
Salerno, on the other hand, was just coming to visit his girlfriend, who's now considering moving to Italy to be with him. After 10 days in a jail cell, I wouldn't blame him if he never wanted to come back here. I've heard people write off countries for far less -- that one rude French salesclerk, the trinket-hawkers in Jamaica -- than being unfairly imprisoned.
None of those 27 countries on that visa-waiver list is a short hop away. Imagine paying through the nose for a flight here from one of those countries and getting turned back -- or worse, jailed -- when you finally land.
If you risked incarceration as a tourist to a certain country, would you really put that place -- even one as exciting, interesting and otherwise welcoming as America -- on your list, especially with the cost of airfare?
If the U.S. has an image problem now, incidents like these -- and the rightful outrage they spark -- are only making things worse. After all, Washington is a tourist mecca, and if those Europeans stop coming and spending dollars like Monopoly money, what'll happen to our fair city? Thoughts?
By Christina Talcott |
May 19, 2008; 7:00 AM ET
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