The Icelandic government has registered a complaint over the alleged mistreatment of an Icelandic woman by airport and law enforcement officials in New York with the U.S. Ambassador to Iceland. Full stories published December 14th, 2007 in the International Herald Tribune and on December 13th in the Iceland Review.
Iceland's Foreign Minister Ingibjorg Solrun Gisladottir called in U.S. Ambassador Carol van Voorst and informed her that the treatment that Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lilliendahl (pictured above left) received at the hands of U.S. government officials in New York was unacceptable. The Foreign Minister wants an official apology from the United States government. Ambassador Van Voorst has since contacted the officials at JFK airport and asked them to provide a report on Lillendahl's case.
Note: Since that time, according to a comment posted by Laura on December 21st to the story on the Sott.net website, the Icelandic Foreign Ministry received a letter signed by Department of Homeland Security Deputy Secretary Paul A. Schneider expressing regret for the treatment Erla got, admitting it was out of proportion, and that they will review procedures.
Icelandic woman Erla Ósk Arnardóttir Lilliendahl said she received poor treatment when she traveled to New York on Sunday December 9th. She said she was interrogated at JFK airport, transferred to prison and deported after 48 hours due to an earlier visa violation.
Lilliendahl told Morgunbladid she never objected to leaving the country, but is dissatisfied with the treatment she received. “Many seem to think that I’m some paranoid housewife who wouldn’t accept being thrown out of the US. But that’s just not the case. I never objected to being deported, just to the things that happened until I was put onboard the plane returning to Iceland,” Lilliendahl said.
According to Lilliendahl, she was interrogated at JFK airport for two days, during which she was not allowed to call relatives. She said she was denied food and drink for 14 hours, and was photographed and fingerprinted. Then on Monday, her hands and feet were chained and she was moved to a prison in New Jersey, where she was kept in a cell, interrogated further and denied access to a phone. She was finally deported on Tuesday.
“If this description is accurate, our behavior towards Miss Arnardóttir was certainly unacceptable and US authorities should apologize to her immediately,” Eugene R. Fidell, who lectures at the law department at Yale University, told Morgunbladid.
The reason for this ordeal is that Lilliendahl stayed in the US for three weeks beyond her permitted visa stay in 1995. She visited the US again in 1995-1996 without any problem. Lilliendahl said she had therefore not been aware that her violation had been that serious. “I would naturally have taken the necessary precautions [before traveling to the US again] if I had realized that,” Lilliendahl said.
She should have applied for a special visa, according to information from the US Embassy in Reykjavík.
When approached by Morgunbladid, spokesperson for the US Customs and Border Protection Janet Rapaport said that she could not comment on individual cases.
On the Sott.net website, Liiliandahl has posted her own account of her experience. Also posted on the Eggman blog. Here's a snippet:
We were screened and went on to passport control. As I waited for them to finish examining my passport I heard an official say that there was something which needed to be looked at more closely and I was directed to the work station of Homeland Security. There I was told that according to their records I had overstayed my visa by 3 weeks in 1995. For this reason I would not be admitted to the country and would be sent home on the next flight. I looked at the official in disbelief and told him that I had in fact visited New York after the trip in 1995 without encountering any difficulties. A detailed interrogation session ensued.
I was photographed and fingerprinted. I was asked questions which I felt had nothing to do with the issue at hand. I was forbidden to contact anyone to advise of my predicament and although I was invited at the outset to contact the Icelandic consul or embassy, that invitation was later withdrawn. I don't know why.
I was then made to wait while they sought further information, and sat on a chair before the authority for 5 hours. I saw the officials in this section handle other cases and it was clear that these were men anxious to demonstrate their power. Small kings with megalomania. I was careful to remain completely cooperative, for I did not yet believe that they planned to deport me because of my "crime".
Also discussed on the Vanguard News Network Forum and the Democratic Underground.
Commentary: This is the flip side of what Americans have been asking for. We wanted more "homeland security" and better immigration enforcement, and we're getting it. But we're also getting more unpleasant incidents and outright human rights violations.
But the treatment of this lady was clearly disproportional to the magnitude of the offense, and tears a page out of the history of the old Soviet Union, whose officials once acted in a similar ham-handed fashion. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why, in a recent survey, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was considered the second least-like Federal agency, with only FEMA worse, according to a December 20th Associated Press report.