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A Horror Story from England
Last uploaded : Thursday 31st Jul 2014 at 02:04
Contributed by : Carol Gould



This story should serve as a warning to any American who does not understand the gravity of being refused an extension on the right to remain in the United Kingdom.

I am not an immigration lawyer but I am a journalist who is shocked by the treatment I am told was accorded an American friend at Heathrow airport over the past two days.

Let’s call her Sam. I had met her on Thanksgiving Day in 2010 at St Paul’s Cathedral after the service given every year for American expatriates. We became fast friends and this year she completed her film studies degree; I attended the screening of her production.

A few weeks ago she was told her right to remain in the UK would not be renewed so she held a poignant going away party; her regret at having to leave London was palpable, none more so than to me whom she considered one of her most profound and enduring friendships. Her British boyfriend was, of course, heartbroken to see her go.

She spent a few weeks back in the United States but her longing to return to Great Britain was so great that she decided to come back. When I heard this alarm bells rang in my head but before I could send her a warning not to come back she had begun her return journey.

What ensued was an ordeal at Heathrow Airport that lasted twenty four hours and resulted in Sam being unceremoniously put on a flight back to the USA. From what I can glean from her boyfriend she was subjected to hours of verbal abuse about America and Americans. Evidently she was denied access to her luggage and was given glutinous bread despite telling the immigration officers she had a gluten intolerance. She was, I am told, informed that ‘Americans have no rights.’ When she was offered sleep she was not allowed earplugs; she was forced to listen to screaming next door as another visitor was interrogated. What has shocked her boyfriend and me most is the fact that British taxpayer money is spent on a group of immigration officers who berate a sixty–ish American grandmother of British descent as if she were a terrorist and offer her nothing but cruelty.

And yes, I do know that British visitors to the United States are subjected to harsh grillings by Homeland Security, established after 9/11; frankly, I wish we could find a way to stop this animosity between two steadfast allies. What Sam went through is the antithesis of a ‘special relationship.’

As I write this I have had an update on Sam’s state of mind back in the USA. My understanding is that her ordeal was brutal. (I do recall the occasion of an American friend who had lived here for twenty–eight years being stopped at Heathrow after a visit to the USA and being told her right to remain here was not renewable. She got hysterical at Heathrow, crying about her beloved cat being in a cattery and she was allowed in for a month. She had to close down her apartment and adopt her cat to a new home. She had paid VAT and council tax for twenty–eight years and never claimed a penny from the British state. She went back, vowing with bitterness never to return to the UK)

Sam writes: “They kept me in a criminal holding/detention area for over 24 hours with only two hours sleep. I could hear the guy in the detention office outside my room making fun of the American and gloating over my situation. I find it incomprehensible that they would put me in the same detention area as those suspected of criminal intent and (therefore) treat me the same as those suspected criminals.

“They took my private diary, journal and note pad where I had written out possible options of where I should go next and possible consequences of each choice, something I do to help me in the decision–making process (certainly for my eyes only). They used statements in my diary (such as "I could run out of funds in this scenario") against me, claiming I didn't have enough money/resources to stay in the UK. They also used the $26 in my purse against me as evidence that I didn't have funds – but who would take a lot of American cash to the UK?

“My passport was stamped with 'leave to remain until 1 October' but the official at Terminal 4 said "that doesn't mean you can re–enter this country." I have since found out from an immigration lawyer that her assertion was not correct.”

In Sam’s case of this weekend let this be a warning to Americans who are refused an extension to their right to remain not to attempt to return to the United Kingdom until they have clarified Stateside –– before setting foot on an aircraft –– what the consequences would be were they to return.
Carol Gould is a broadcaster based in London; she has appeared on BBC Any Questions?, The Jeremy Vine Show and Woman’s Hour as well as on many other BBC,Sky News and ITV broadcasts. She is the author of Spitfire Girls and Don’t Tread on me – anti–Americanism Abroad.


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