A group of journalists are demanding an apology from the US authorities after they were refused entry, detained for 26 hours and then deported.
The journalists – two from Future, one from Dennis Publishing and another from Indie magazine – had arrived in Los Angeles with at least 20 other journalists to cover the video game conference E3.
All the press pack signed a visa waiver form, but four were stopped at customs on the grounds it was not eligible if they worked for a foreign media organisation. Their passports were confiscated, they were accused of fraudulently entering the US and told they would be deported.
Martin Kitts, reviews editor on NGC (Nintendo Game Cube) said: “I arrived in LA around 6pm and I had to sit around for hours waiting. They took our shoe laces and handcuffed us. They stuffed us in the back of a van and took us to another terminal. It was midnight before we saw an immigration officer.”
At 2am, Kitts was taken to a detention centre in downtown LA, to wait until the flight back at 8pm.
Although they were given access to a pay phone, Kitts said the guards would not let them change their dollar notes for coins to use it and it was only when Johnny Minkley of CVG (Computer and Video Games) magazine managed to sneak his mobile out of his bag that they were able to call their colleagues. “I had to whisper into my mobile from the toilet, terrified the guard would bang on the door,” he told Press Gazette. “We were denied basic human rights and treated like terrorists under armed guard.”
Minkley was not allowed to speak to his girlfriend, Alison Woods, deputy editor of Indie. “She found the experience extremely harrowing. They separated us and when I tried to comfort her, they threatened to put me in a holding cell to ‘cool off’,” he said.
Future has asked its legal team to look into the incident and all three publishers are writing to seek an apology on behalf of the journalists.
A US Embassy spokesman said: “For a decade or longer it has been a requirement for all working journalists travelling to the US to obtain an I-visa. We strongly encourage all journalists who anticipate they may be working in the US to apply for an I-visa early as they are good for five years.”
By Ruth Addicott