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July 15, 2004
LA Times: Reporters Don't Need No Stinkin' Visas

In an unsigned editorial today, the Los Angeles Times demonstrates its lack of seriousness regarding security. Any other time, laxity in visa management would raise the ire of its editorial board, but when it involves people who identify themselves as journalists, the Times inveighs against Customs officials who have the nerve to actually enforce border laws:

When British journalist Elena Lappin arrived in Los Angeles in May, on assignment for a British newspaper, little did she know she would end up being the subject of her story. By her own account in The Times later that month, Lappin was interrogated for four hours, subjected to a body search, fingerprinted, photographed, handcuffed and forced to spend a night in a cell in downtown L.A. and a day as a detainee at the airport before being deported to London. Lappin's crime? Admitting to customs officials that she was a journalist.

Quite frankly, that's a load of crap, as the next paragraph makes clear:

Tourists and businesspeople from 26 countries, including Britain, are allowed to visit the United States for 90 days or less without a visa. Those who enter the country for other reasons like journalists covering a story usually just claim to be tourists in order to avoid hassles. Lappin, who hadn't realized she needed a visa, paid the price for honesty.

Lappin's crime wasn't honesty, it was willful ignorance. Most countries require visas from foreign nationals wishing to work in their country, and the US is no different. I don't know if the Times implies that journalists are less intelligent than normal people, but apparently the process of researching the requirements of entry are much too overwhelming for reporters. (In fact, this goes a long way to explaining the poor performance of many on the Times' staff, such as the assertion that Paul Bremer left Iraq without addressing the Iraqi people -- after CNN carried the speech here in the US.)

I also find it interesting that the Times is so blithe about reporters lying to get into the country. How many of these are the Times employing, and how long have they been here?

She wasn't the only one. Since March 2003, 13 foreign journalists without visas have been detained and deported from the United States. Since May, at least two other journalists have suffered treatment similar to Lappin's.

How strange that must seem to the editorial board at the LAT! Enforcing immigration law ... what will Customs think of next?

As a result of the scandal surrounding the Lappin affair, Robert C. Bonner, the commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, announced recently that journalists arriving without a visa would be allowed a one-time entry and be advised of the regulation. That's an encouraging first step, but not enough.

Why should journalists be more heavily restricted than tourists in a nation that purports to honor freedom of the press? The immigration law should be amended to include journalists among those who can enter the U.S. without a visa for a short-term assignment.

Because, you idiots, people who enter the country to work aren't tourists, a point that I would have thought even the Times could understand. Visas are issued to regulate the amount of work that goes to foreigners inside the US, and also to track the revenue and taxes they generate.

And why should someone who shows up at a port of entry without a necessary visa be treated like a criminal?

It could be because they're breaking the law.

No terrorist with any brains is going to pose as a journalist without a visa when the alternative is waltzing through as a tourist.

For that matter, any reporter with a modicum of sense should check out the entry requirements -- or, I suppose the Times argues, we should treat all reporters as brainless jackasses who can't be bothered to read. (Again, it would explain their hiring practices.) So we should just mothball border security and head home, according to the Times. Forget enforcing the law, no matter what purpose it serves!

People who don't meet U.S. immigration rules should not be let into the country. But they can be treated civilly until the carrier that brought them in transports them back out as carriers should be required to do. Unless customs authorities have evidence they are dealing with a criminal or a terrorist, no visitor should be handcuffed or thrown into jail.

Ahem. Criminal, according to Merriam-Webster: One that has committed or been legally convicted of a crime. Entering a country without proper paperwork is a crime.


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Posted by Ed Morrissey at July 15, 2004 12:12 PM

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