Friday, December 16, 2005

Google Meets Kafka at the U.S. Border

Hossein Derakshan, the founding father of Iranian blogging, recently got stopped and turned back while trying to enter -- actually, re-enter -- the United States. His account would be funny, if only ...:

Goodbye to America

I've literally become homeless. My new home is now hoder.com and I'm not joking.

You might have seen a small change in my little biography on the right hand side. I had said that I was in New York. But I'm now out of the States and can't go back at least for six months.

It was actually my blog that got me into trouble after a month of staying in my friend's flat in lower-Manhattan, NYC. It's a sad but real story.

The last time I decided to go back to Toronto for a night, I took a bus. A huge mistake, now I know. When I wanted to come back to NYC, I was obviously stopped and interviewed by US Customs and Border Security people at the Buffalo border (Peace Bridge), like everyone else on the bus.

But when they realized I was going to the States to speak at a blog-related conference (ConvergeSouth) they started to google my name right in front of me. Two officers, actually.

They carefully scanned the results and found this English blog. One of them, a very sharp guy in fact, started to read every single post on my blog. And it didn't take long until he shocked me: "So you live in New York, right? That's what you've written in your on blog."

I had no idea googling people at the border had become a routine. So instead of defending me with some simple legal arguments about my rights as a Canadian citizen and what I meant by that sentence, I kind of felt desperate and said I did that because I was there for some back-to-back events and conferences and I thought saying you are in New York is sexier than Toronto -- which actually is, don't you think?

He was ecstatic. My blog made his day, or in this case, his night. He kept reading my posts and asking questions about a lot of them: Why did I go to Iran, what are my feelings about Bush administration, why I separated from my wife, what did I think about Iranian politics, etc.

The guy wanted to get me into deep trouble so ultimately I would never go back to his lovely country, apparently. So he started to look for evidence that I'd also worked in the States and were paid by American. Until he found, in my archive, a post I'd written before leaving for Iran, to ask for the blogging community's attention and support, especially if something happened to me in Iran and about how they could help in that case.

Sarcastically, I'd reminded everyone not to be surprised if, while in detention in Iran, I confessed about some absurd wrongdoings form the Islamic regime's point of view, such as: getting money from the CIA, trafficking illegal drugs, dating Natalie Portman and Kiera Knightly, etc.

"So you are getting money for the Bush administration," the officer asked. I was speechless. "Come on! This is a joke. Read the whole thing and put it in a context." Fortunately the guy was a smart man and realized the sarcasm. However he said these things are not quite appropriate to be on your blog when you are at the border. He was right.

But later, when he had still doubt about letting me in or not, he found the latest issue of Newsweek in my small suitcase on which I had my NYC address. There were many others with my Toronto address, but that single was enough to convince him about my situation. I didn't challenge him again. God, I wish I were a lawyer. I could've said this magazine is important for me and I didn't want to miss a single issue of it by being away from home.

So then he took me to another room and spent about two hours writing a report and registering and documenting my refusal of entry.

Now the result is that, apparently, I can't visit the States at least for six months and even after that I should prove I'm established enough in Canada. I also have to explain why I failed to register my departure when the bus driver didn't stop while crossing the US border to Canada.

Now I feel there is no place in New York City, the most cosmopolitan city in the world. But it's the end of the world. Even it might be better for me to spend more time in Europe and learn new languages.

It's sad to see America is not the land of the free anymore.

P.S: Some of the readers think I had broken law by staying in the US. But as a Canadian citizen I'm allowed to visit and stay in the US for up to six month. It was only one month I was in New York City and I was staying with a friend. How that could be breaking the law?

http://hoder.com/weblog/archives/014729.shtml

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