Skipping Comic-Con: How Harassment at the US Border Is Keeping One Fan Away
For the past couple of years I’ve gone to San Diego Comic Con as the guest of a professional friend, a New Zealand native who works in the film industry. We’ll call her Carrie. Two days ago I got this message: “I’m starting to worry about traveling to the States. I’ve seen a couple of posts about Australians being detained by Border Protection.”
I tried to reassure her, but couldn’t honestly promise she wouldn’t run into trouble. As a film employee she travels a lot, and though she hasn’t gone anywhere on the “suspect countries” list there’s no way to know how Border Protection agents will react to that. Within a day Carrie progressed from “I’m just a bit doubtful about going” to “I’m really sorry, Khai.”
Real talk? I can’t blame her.
Ever since President Trump signed an Executive Order limiting travel to the US back on January 27th, reports of harassment at the US Border have been spreading faster than the Legacy Virus. A Moroccan-born Canadian citizen was banned from the US for having “hostile videos” (AKA prayers in Arabic) on her phone. Celebrated Australian author Mem Fox was held for two hours and interrogated while travelling to receive an award. A group of Canadians trying to attend the Women’s March were turned away because “attending a protest is not a good enough reason to be allowed into the United States of America”.
That last is part of the reason for Carrie’s fear. Will going to a comic book convention be considered a “good enough” reason to visit America? I love SDCC, but a comic convention is a much less grown-up reason to travel than supporting women’s rights. Carrie decided she can’t risk spending thousands on non-refundable flights and hotels only to be turned away because a touchy Border Protection agent didn’t like her Facebook page.
Carrie*, who works mostly as an assistant director (sometimes director), agreed to talk with us about her decision and how she reached it.
The Geekiary: How did you first hear about the problems at the US Border?
Carrie: Facebook, I guess. Online updates. On the news. Word of mouth at work. At first it was about the travel ban to people from certain countries. Then I started reading articles about people having their cellphones being taken off them, and that Border Protection had a right to do that, which I don’t believe is right. I read about people from Canada having trouble getting into USA. Then I read that a couple of Australians got detained, one of [whom] was an author.
TG: Did you know right away that it could be a problem for you?
C: No. Someone at work asked me if I was concerned and I laughed it off, saying “I’m not Muslim, I’ll be fine.” But things seem to escalate. While it is a concern that traveling to the US isn’t cheap…
TG: Was passing the border your only concern about visiting this year?
C: [I]t’s not just what’s happening at the borders. It’s the racist attacks, and the growing hate and such open racism and people being prepared to attack other humans in the name of Trump that has been concerning me. It’s always been a concern that American openly carry guns and that there are so many gun related issues, but adding hatred into the mix has me more than a little concerned. I have a lot of friends in [the] USA and have always enjoyed going over there for Comic-Con and visits. Now I just feel a growing sense of dread and fear.
TG: How did you decide the risk was too great for you, personally? –
C: I don’t really know when I decided. I know I’m repeating myself a bit from the previous question, but I just started to feel a growing sense of fear. I started to weigh up a lot of stuff. “What if I pay all this money, and they turn me away?” I had heard about people having their phones looked into. Apparently Border Protection was checking people’s Facebook? One look at mine, and all the friends that I have who are anti-Trump and post it openly would probably not be in my favor. I started to worry about that, and how much money I would be losing if they did turn me away. Flights usually cost me between $1000 – $1500 [round trip] with travel insurance. [Editor’s Note: refusal of entry is usually not covered by travel insurance.] Everything that was going on in [the] USA changed my feelings about going. So it wasn’t really a single decision. It was a number of things that eventually led me to the big decision.
TG: What has the reaction been from your industry friends?
C: I haven’t spoken to any industry friends about it. I spoke to normal friends about my concerns. I started to wonder if I was being paranoid and over reacting. Still not convinced I’m not, but I shared my concerns with my friends. They were all in agreement. They all said my points were valid and that they weren’t sure they would be in a hurry to go to [the] USA right now. When I spoke to my Mother this morning about my decision not to go, she was actually relieved, and said she was worried about me going over there.
[Editor’s note: Let’s stop here for a second, people. Someone’s mom was worried about them visiting AMERICA. Like we’re not a safe place to be. Like they would be hurt here. Like we’re dangerous, because right now we kind of are. Well done, President Trump. Awesome leadership. Super proud.]
TG: Have you taken any criticism?
C: A couple of people have had responses like “but you’re not Muslim,” [but] as I mentioned above, my friends share my concerns and have agreed with me that now may not be the best time to go there.
TG: What would it take for you to feel comfortable visiting America again?
C: I’m not sure. To not have such a d*ckhead running the country. To not see the president of the country encouraging such blatant hatred, fear, and racism. Things are getting real dark over there at the moment, and how things are, it does not encourage me to want to go there right now.
TG: Would you advise others against visiting the US?
C: I don’t think so. I would advise people to be careful, and I’m not sure I would exactly encourage people to go to the US either, though. Which is sad, because I’ve always loved going over there.
TG: Also, what will you miss most about SDCC this year?
C: This is probably the hardest question. It devastates me for a number of reasons that I’m not going now. I feel a heavy burden that I have let people down, because they were counting on me for my guest badges. [Editor’s note: For the record, she doesn’t need to feel guilty. I joined up with an awesome buying group and am probably fine.] I will miss catching up with my friends. I will miss the excitement, energy, atmosphere and insanity of it all. I will miss random conversations with people I have never met who speak the same geeky language as me. I will miss going to panels and walking around the floor and looking at merch. I feel more dread than I do excitement about going, though. It saddens me to be missing all of this, but I actually feel a bit relieved, too.
Thanks to Carrie for her time and energy. She really put a lot of thought into her answers, and we appreciate it.
In case you’re wondering, she isn’t alone in her decision not to visit the USA. Frommer’s reported a drop of as much as 17% in online searches for flights to America since the ban. People are being scared off by the stories of harassment by Border Protection agents. If the “Trump Slump” holds, the tourism industry stands to lose billions.
Maybe cold, hard cash will change what morality can’t. In the meantime, I don’t get to see my friend this year.
What do you think about this? Do you know anyone who’s worried about attending an American convention because of the border issues? Share your opinion in the comments section below.
*Name has been changed at her request, because she’s worried it will keep her from visiting in the future. Rest assured I know this person and have seen her IMDB page with my eye holes.
Khai is a writer, anthropologist, and game enthusiast. She can talk fandom in five languages, and her proudest nerd moment so far was presenting original research titled “Gender, Sex, and Werewolves” at an international anthropological conference. Her first game, None For Me, is due out from Calico Games early next year.