Cheryl Morgan Refused Entry to US

Fans expressed outrage upon hearing that when Cheryl Morgan landed at San Francisco International Airport today she was denied entry to the United States by Customs & Border Patrol authorities and placed on a return flight to England.

A prevalent reaction among overseas fans is that this is another reason not to contemplate attending U.S. conventions. That’s not hard to understand as U.S. fans also feel burdened by the country’s security measures. (Not getting Sierra a passport — without which she might not have been allowed back into the US — kept my family from departing the country for the 2003 Worldcon in Toronto. My mistake, but still a bad experience.)

However, Cheryl’s blog posts about the event indicate it is not purely a bureaucratic nightmare (though that is surely a part) but unspecified personal circumstances are also in the mix and it’s nothing that can be helped by a public campaign:

Contrary to much of the speculation, this has little to do with anti-terror legislation and the like. It has been caused mainly by the fact that US immigration is the provenance of two separate government organizations — the State Department and Customs & Border Patrol — and in my case they don’t appear to have communicated very well.

As I result I appear to have inadvertently contravened the regulations, and therefore I will never again be able to use the visa waiver program. Nothing can be done about this….

Online outrage, letter writing campaigns and the like will not have any positive effect on my situation, so please don’t waste your time and energy.

This development not only will keep Cheryl from attending the 2010 International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts as planned, it’s rendered her homeless: now she unexpectedly has to find a long-term living situation in the UK.

Cheryl has been contending with U.S. authorities over her visa for some time. She wrote in October 2008:

Well, yesterday I was told at immigration that while my frequent comings and goings were in accordance with the rules of the scheme, they constituted an “abuse of the system”, and that if I wanted to enter the USA again for more than the odd few days at a time then I would have to get a visa. I have been let in this time, but my chances of coming back are not good.

And she wrote in February 2009:

Kevin [Standlee] and I had a long conference call with the immigration lawyer last night, and the upshot of it was that there really is no visa that it is sensible for me to apply for. There are always options, but they would be very expensive and by no means guaranteed to succeed. As we have spent a lot of money already and got nowhere, we are not inclined to pour good money after bad.

This does not mean that I am banned from the US. It just means that I have to be a lot more careful how I come and go. If I can steal a phrase from Douglas Adams, I am going to be spending a year or two dead for immigration purposes.

Whatever the obstacles have been, she must have believed they’d been overcome in time for today’s flight.

[Via Dave Langford.]

8 thoughts on “Cheryl Morgan Refused Entry to US

  1. With all due respect, Michael, I think it is exactly a bureaucratic nightmare when it’s caused by two different government departments squeezing an innocent human being in the middle of their conflicting pseudo-regulations without regard to the cost to anyone of the hardship they have inflicted.

    This matter is a first-warning to fans and pros alike that convention travel is being monitored and power is being used for its own sake, just to show “subjects” (formerly “citizens”) what can and will be done to them at the whim of someone incapable of a productive or creative job but really good at interfering with legitimate commerce and travel. Combine this with what has happened to Peter Watts, and it begins to dawn how accurate Heinlein was with his depictions of formerly friendly border crossings in Friday in 1982.

    The fact that you skipped the 2003 worldcon for fear that you would not be able to bring your own daughter back into the United States from Canada strengthens my point, that even you, a federal government employee of long and honorable standing, had reason to fear almost seven years ago the random likelihood of your family being torn apart at border guard whim. We have become prisoners within our own countries.

  2. Yes, clearly a bureaucratic snafu, the upshot of which is simple. Being deported (even in error, as Cheryl had never been refused a visa — but American law is clear: if authorities think you have been refused a visa and have subsequently attempted to enter the US via the visa waiver system, you must be deported) she cannot attempt in the future to wuse the visa waiver system to enter the USA, because no one who has been refused entry can use the visa waiver system. This is mandatory and invariant. It does not matter that she had not in fact been refused a visa. All that counts is that she has been refused entry.
    But (as she had already discovered) she had no grounds to apply for a regular visa (which is why, on the State department’s advice, she had withdrawn her application before it was formally submitted), she will not be granted a visa.
    Which means she cannot enter the US (I’m pretty sure she would never be allowed on a flight ).
    I think it is invidious to speculate on other issues which might have, under some conditions, governed Homeland behaviour, because, in this case, Occam’s Razor tells us that further speculation is unnecessary. The simple explanation was all that was required.
    I’d be very happy to learn that I have got this wrong….

    John Clute

  3. @David Klaus & John Clute: I’m trying to report Cheryl’s interpretation of her case, according to my understanding of what she has been posting about it since 2008, some of which is directly quoted in my writeup. That was the task I set myself. You are free to place your own interpretation on these events since you are not attempting to write such a report.

    @David: Sorry if I gave a different impression, but I did attend the 2003 Worldcon. It was Diana and Sierra who returned home from LAX, since we did not want to personally put to the test whether an 18-month-old citizen in the arms of her mother would be refused return to the US, a possibility raised by the airline service representative.

  4. The problem is that there are two separate government agencies, under completely different chains of command, that only touch at the President (Homeland Security/CBP and Department of State), and they both have slightly different definitions of what they will accept and somewhat different interpretations of the rules. CBP said, more or less, “You should get a visa because you’re coming and going so often.” (Note that she was staying strictly within the published rules and regulations; someone at CBP simply didn’t like the fact that she was coming to the USA so often.) When she went to State to get a visa, they told her, “You don’t need a visa to come and go for those reasons, so don’t submit that application,” and thus she withdrew the application. Working from State’s reassurances, Cheryl came to the US a couple of more times without much more than the usual border-crossing inspection, which seemed to reinforce State’s interpretation. But this time CBP apparently decided to bounce her — possibly they decided to interpret a withdrawn application to be the same as a rejected one, but that’s merely speculation on my part — which makes her ineligible for the visa waiver scheme in the future. Whether this will change State’s mind about whether she should apply for the visa that more or less duplicates the class of people who come on Visa Waiver is an open question at this time.

    But again, the key issue is that the two agencies’ agendas and definitions and interpretations are sufficiently different that Cheryl has been caught in the gears. Anyone who travels on the visa waiver scheme a lot should be concerned about this, in my opinion.

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  6. > I’m trying to report Cheryl’s interpretation of her case, according
    > to my understanding of what she has been posting about it
    > since 2008, some of which is directly quoted in my writeup. That
    > was the task I set myself. You are free to place your own
    > interpretation on these events since you are not attempting to
    > write such a report.

    Mike, I was unfamiliar with what had happened to Ms Morgan before; your account was literally the first I’d read of what was happening to her, and my interpretation of events come from that, along with what I know about border procedure from past experience and reading of others.

    Mr. Standlee does confirm what I read into what you wrote, that she got whipsawed between agencies of two different Cabinet departments.

    > Sorry if I gave a different impression, but I did attend the 2003
    > Worldcon. It was Diana and Sierra who returned home from
    > LAX, since we did not want to personally put to the test
    > whether an 18-month-old citizen in the arms of her mother
    > would be refused return to the US, a possibility raised by the
    > airline service representative.

    That still doesn’t lessen my point, that on the whim of some unknown border official your family could have been torn apart with impunity. I’m sincerely glad you got to go (and apologize for my misinterpretation of what you said) but still your wife and child had to stay home out of fear of what could have happened. That’s not supposed to happen to U. S. citizens here in the United States itself, yet you had to be concerned. What is wrong with this picture?

  7. P. S.:

    > I’m trying to report Cheryl’s interpretation of her case, according
    > to my understanding of what she has been posting about it since
    > 2008, some of which is directly quoted in my writeup. That was
    > the task I set myself.

    Your journalistic objectivity is laudable and I applaud it.

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