Roman Holiday, Washington Nightmare

Here is a paragraph that could take some while to unpack:

“We have a lot of government people here and lobbyists and lawyers and very educated, very savvy Washingtonians,” said Jim Cooper, Ms. Cooper’s father, a businessman, describing the reaction in his neighborhood, the Wessynton subdivision of Alexandria. “They were pretty shocked that the government could do this sort of thing, because it doesn’t happen that often, except to people you never hear about, like Haitians and Guatemalans.”

Eventually, it always happens to people you have heard about, and then it happens to you:

He was a carefree Italian with a recent law degree from a Roman university. She was “a totally Virginia girl,” as she puts it, raised across the road from George Washington’s home. Their romance, sparked by a 2006 meeting in a supermarket in Rome, soon brought the Italian, Domenico Salerno, on frequent visits to Alexandria, Va., where he was welcomed like a favorite son by the parents and neighbors of his girlfriend, Caitlin Cooper.

But on April 29, when Mr. Salerno, 35, presented his passport at Washington Dulles International Airport, a Customs and Border Protection agent refused to let him into the United States. And after hours of questioning, agents would not let him travel back to Rome, either; over his protests in fractured English, he said, they insisted that he had expressed a fear of returning to Italy and had asked for asylum.

Ms. Cooper, 23, who had promised to show her boyfriend another side of her country on this visit — meaning Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon — eventually learned that he had been sent in shackles to a rural Virginia jail. And there he remained for more than 10 days, locked up without charges or legal recourse while Ms. Cooper, her parents and their well-connected neighbors tried everything to get him out.

Mr. Salerno’s case may be extreme, but it underscores the real but little-known dangers that many travelers from Europe and other first-world nations face when they arrive in the United States — problems that can startle Americans as much as their foreign visitors.

“We have a lot of government people here and lobbyists and lawyers and very educated, very savvy Washingtonians,” said Jim Cooper, Ms. Cooper’s father, a businessman, describing the reaction in his neighborhood, the Wessynton subdivision of Alexandria. “They were pretty shocked that the government could do this sort of thing, because it doesn’t happen that often, except to people you never hear about, like Haitians and Guatemalans.”

Each year, thousands of would-be visitors from 27 so-called visa waiver countries are turned away when they present their passports, said Angelica De Cima, a spokeswoman for Customs and Border Protection, who said she could not discuss any individual case. In the last seven months, 3,300 people have been rejected and more than 8 million admitted, she said.

Though citizens of those nations do not need visas to enter the United States for as long as 90 days, their admission is up to the discretion of border agents. There are more than 60 grounds for finding someone inadmissible, including a hunch that the person plans to work or immigrate, or evidence of an overstay, however brief, on an earlier visit.

While those turned away are generally sent home on the next flight, “there are occasional circumstances which require further detention to review their cases,” Ms. De Cima said. And because such “arriving aliens” are not considered to be in the United States at all, even if they are in custody, they have none of the legal rights that even illegal immigrants can claim.

On the same day (today) that this article appeared, the Washington Post published a piece about foreign detainees being heavily sedated with antipsychotic drugs before being deported:

The U.S. government has injected hundreds of foreigners it has deported with dangerous psychotropic drugs against their will to keep them sedated during the trip back to their home country, according to medical records, internal documents and interviews with people who have been drugged.

The government’s forced use of antipsychotic drugs, in people who have no history of mental illness, includes dozens of cases in which the “pre-flight cocktail,” as a document calls it, had such a potent effect that federal guards needed a wheelchair to move the slumped deportee onto an airplane.

Of course, the use of drugs in this way, when not medically necessary or required to prevent harm to the individual or others, is a form of abuse that is totally forbidden under international law, and violates government policy as well:

Involuntary chemical restraint of detainees, unless there is a medical justification, is a violation of some international human rights codes. The practice is banned by several countries where, confidential documents make clear, U.S. escorts have been unable to inject deportees with extra doses of drugs during layovers en route to faraway places.

Federal officials have seldom acknowledged publicly that they sedate people for deportation. The few times officials have spoken of the practice, they have understated it, portraying sedation as rare and “an act of last resort.” Neither is true, records and interviews indicate.

Records show that the government has routinely ignored its own rules, which allow deportees to be sedated only if they have a mental illness requiring the drugs, or if they are so aggressive that they imperil themselves or people around them.

More commentary at Memeorandum: Blue Girl, Red State; Amygdala; Reason; Slog; Balkinization; The Sideshow.

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