Passing through customs, one often gets the feeling that being foreign (or even just being someone who travels) means you’re guilty until proven innocent. But apparently now being foreign and a bit eccentric means you’re guilty until…well…until nothing…they just kick you out of the country. From CNN:

British writer and self-styled dandy Sebastian Horsley was denied entry to the United States after arriving to promote his memoir of sex, drugs and flamboyant fashion.


Sebastian Horsley was deemed “not admissible” by U.S. customs agents. Horsley said he was questioned for eight hours Tuesday by border officials at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey before being denied entry on grounds of “moral turpitude.” The 45-year-old author was traveling to New York for the U.S. launch of “Dandy in the Underworld,” his account of a life dedicated to sex, drugs and finely tailored clothes.

“I was dressed flamboyantly — top hat, long velvet coat, gloves,” Horsley said. “My one concession to American sensibilities was to remove my nail polish. I thought that would get me through.”

First of all, if this really was the reason he was booted…umm…Moral Turpitude? What century do we live in? And who’s to decide what that means, anyways? I, along with a lot of people, think, for example, Margaret Thatcher did some pretty immoral things in her time in office, can we get her banned? I mean, she got people killed in a stupid petty war to boost her approval ratings. This guy did a lot of drugs and had a lot of sex.

Second of all, the moral turpitude bit may not really be the interesting bit of this story – it may be in the mounting headaches involved in going to the States these days. As the rest of the article explains, he was coming under a special type of permission:

Horsley was traveling under the CBP’s visa waiver program, which entitles citizens of some countries — mostly in the European Union — to enter the United States for business or leisure without applying for a visa. Travelers can be refused entry if they admit on a customs form to being convicted of a crime or to being addicted to narcotics, Cirillo said.

This is interesting, as many news outlets (like USA Today) cut this part out of the AP story when they reported it. Now, Horsley’s rep declined to reveal what damaging bit of info he declared (during 8 hours of questioning) that got him booted – but his book does quite explicitly detail a life of drug abuse and prostitution and it is known that he had one arrest “25 years ago for possession of amphetamine sulfate, for which he was given a conditional discharge” and which didn’t affect his visiting the U.S. in the past.

On the one hand, if you’re travelling under some sort of special permission, yes you would expect people to be on their best behavior. But his behavior wasn’t what was being questioned, it was his past. And if his past disqualifies him, who else should be getting the boot by these standards? Wouldn’t you have to start with every single rock star from Keith Richards to Pete Doherty?

And what about people who have an arrest record because the were involved in, for example, a political protest? Are all arrests equal under these regulations? If this is the kind of hard line the U.S. is going to take on these questions, expect to see more and more of these stories. But while right now it’s just this kerraaazy writer, if the public becomes insensitive to these types of expulsions it could soon be used to bar all sorts of people – controversial artists, politically minded thinkers, activists, you name it. They’re coming for him today, but it could be you or me tomorrow (ok, maybe not me, I am still a citizen after all – but you know what I’m saying).