In light of the wave of controversies that have arisen in regards to U.S. immigration and travel policies, I sought out an expert and had the opportunity to sit down with retired Federal Immigration Judge, Bruce J. Einhorn to discuss some of the changes to the immigration climate in the U.S. Judge Einhorn received his Bachelor of Arts in History from Columbia College and his Juris Doctor Degree from New York University School of Law. He is now a professor at Pepperdine University School of Law.
There has been heightened tension and fear regarding immigration law enforcement since the Trump Administration came into office and attempted to implement a travel ban from seven Muslim majority countries. However, even some immigrants and travelers from other parts of the world are finding it more difficult now to enter into the U.S. Judge Einhorn explains that even though there are no differences for these travelers, it is his understanding that “customs and border control, who are the people you see at the airport when you come into the country, are engaging in much more aggressive questioning, specifically people that fit into a certain profile.” For example, a person that is an Orthodox Muslim who is dressed in a more modest or traditional way, is more likely to be “subject to much more extensive interrogation.”
Perhaps this is the driving force behind why an Icelandic musician in the band Oyama wasn’t able to enter the U.S. at the last minute. The artist was traveling to the U.S. for a performance, but right before her trip, she found that her Visa status had been changed online. She was unable to find out why. When I asked Judge Einhorn about this situation he explained, “Iceland is not generally considered a great supplier of terrorists. “ However, “I’ve heard enough to know that this is happening. And the problem is that people are put in the position of not being allowed to come back at the last moment to continue their activities in this country, but they are also not able to find out why.”
This Icelandic musician was part of a Visa Waiver Program, which was designed to make it easier for people of Western countries to travel to other Western countries. Artists often travel into the country with “non-immigrant” visas. These allow individuals to travel to the U.S. for “limited periods of time and for specific reasons.” Usually, traveling into the U.S. to perform as an artist qualifies. These artists must be able to justify that they are “not coming in to take jobs from Americans.” However, as can be seen in this case, people in these programs are also being affected by the tightening of immigration and travel laws. And it is costly and takes time to untangle this. Most people cannot afford the time or money to engage an attorney and may not be able to get into the country in time to perform, return to a job, or return to school.
This issue of travel visas for a performance exploded in the news in March 2017 surrounding the South by South West (SXSW) Austin music festival. The festival included a clause in its performance contract that stated: “Accepting and performing unofficial events may result in immediate deportation, revoked passport and denied entry by US Customs Border Patrol at US ports of entry.”
Einhorn says this contract sets a dangerous precedent. His concern is that “generally speaking, the Government is trying to get private artistic organizations, that are supposed to promote cultural awareness and exchange, to act as almost immigration officers, and start checking up on people.” He relates this to what the Administration is trying to do with regard to sanctuary cities, “where local law enforcement authorities have decided not to act as deputized immigration officers.”
Einhorn warns that efforts such as these are reminiscent of the McCarthy era, “when you had people informing on each other.” This is particularly dangerous when “you’re dealing with the arts, where you’re supposed to be allowing expression and in the end you’re using it as an excuse to investigate the backgrounds of people.”