Brazilian engineer decries treatment at U. S. airport
By Ana Lucia Richa
By Ana Lucia Richa
Rockford College Internexus Student
and Brazilian Journalist
People from Brazil are the 5th largest group traveling to the U.S., according to The Travel Industry Association of America (TIA). About 737,000 Brazilian tourists visited the U.S. in 2000.
Even after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, the number of Brazilians coming to the U.S. was only slightly reduced. The drop in the last four months of 2001 was 12 percent in business travel and 9 percent in tourist travel.
On the other hand, now many foreign visitors feel more unwelcome in the U.S. than before Sept. 11. The increased security conducted by the Immigration Department can cause unexpected embarrassment for a simple tourist passing through the many inspections.
In official travel to the U.S. between Jan. 31 and Feb. 4, the Brazilian Minister of Foreign Affairs, Celso Lafer, had to take off his shoes in the airports of Miami, Washington and New York. This situation caused considerable embarrassment to the minister because the Canadian and English Foreign Affairs ministers, William Graham and Jack Straw respectively, were not searched.
Less than a month later, the Brazilian engineer, Ricardo Abude Eustaquio da Silva, 42, was detained and passed through some difficult moments in Los Angeles Airport for 30 hours. Da Silva belongs to a prominent Brazilian family and has been to the U.S. many times.
The engineer flew from Rio de Janeiro to Los Angeles on Feb. 23. He was planning to drive to a yoga monastery in San Diego, Calif. He was to meet the yoga masters with whom he studied in 2000 and 2001.
Da Silva affirmed that he had all regular documents and a visa valid until 2009 when he arrived in Los Angeles. He asserted he was received with hostility by the INS officers and his luggage, his documents and money were confiscated.
According to da Silva, his troubles began when he proceeded toward passport control. The officer asked him to proceed toward another INS officer known as Secondary One. Da Silva thought that an interview with a second officer was the new routine after the terrorist attacks.
In his own words: A second officer asked me to collect all my luggage and accompany him inside Secondary One. (sic) All of a sudden, I am brutally pushed inside a 2X2 yard cell, all my luggage, money, documents and personal belongings are confiscated, and they take away my belt and shoe strings.
As I protested against the unexpected treatment, the two officers respond with loud screams and threats of beating me and keeping me confined. I am violently pushed against the wall, they frisk me from head to toe, and all my personal belongings are searched. Again, Im pushed against the wall, my picture is taken, Im fingerprinted and am finally thrown into a filthy, stinky, unventilated hall, already crowded with people.
I notice by their looks that they have gone through the same ritual…. I face the degrading scandal [and] the very same treatment is given to women, teenagers, children, even elderly peoplea truly barbarian act! Revolted, I witness two INS officers arguing over the privilege of frisking the prettiest ladies, he said.
According to da Silva, about 20 more foreigners were with him in this room. He classified them in four groups: blacks, Arabians, Asians and Hispanics.
After hours of confinement in this room, the engineer was sent to an interview where he affirms that he was coerced to sign a document in which he requested the withdrawal of his visa and accepted return to Brazil on the first available flight.
In Brazil, da Silva filed a formal complaint at the American Embassy in Brasilia, at the Brazilian Foreign Affairs Ministry and at international human rights institutions. He also is filing a lawsuit against the U.S. government for personal humiliation and violation of civil rights and due process.
Da Silvas problem was considered an offensive act to the Brazilian authorities. On March 21, the Brazilian ambassador of Los Angeles Consulate, Jose Vicente Pimentel, met Thomas Schiltgen, the officer responsible for the INS in the Los Angeles Airport.
Thomas Schiltgen had a different version about da Silvas visa. He stated that da Silva had no current visa but an extension of his old visa, which expired when he left the U.S. in his last visit here. It was agreed at the meeting that the INS would open an internal investigation to determine the facts.
Da Silvas history was published in many Brazilian media outlets and was also quoted in a report of The Brazilian Travel Agents Association that foresees a drop of 7.5 percent in Brazilian tourism in the U.S. for 2002.
Da Silvas text about his 30 hours in the Los Angeles Airport can be read in English at the website www.seifiles.net. The text is titled Atrocities In American Airports.