Not many people I know have ever been deported from the US. And by not many, I mean no one. I had heard stories about friends of friends who were put on a flight back home at the airport, but it always seemed so far removed. Not something that could ever happen to me. I don’t do drugs, I don’t have a criminal record, I didn’t even get drunk until I was 18. Basically I’m annoyingly well behaved. So when the immigration officer at customs and border control waved an officer over to escort me away, I was pretty perplexed.
As I followed the officer into a second screening room, I started feeling nervous. Knees weak, palms sweaty, arms spaghetti type of shit. A man with slicked black greasy hair opened my suitcase up, and proceeded to rifle through every sock and pair of underpants I owned. As if this wasn’t invasive enough, he then pulled out my personal journal, and started flipping through the pages. He began reading sections of my own diary back to me, and with a smarmy look on his face he reads;
“I hope this trip to the US is successful. I just want to book a job.”
I stared at him, mouth agape, unsure of what to say. Had I really written that? Was that really the last thing I’d written in my journal before entering the US on a tourist visa??? Apparently so, and I had dated it it too, like the good little girl I am.
“You’re planning on working in the US?” He asks, with a sinister smile.
We went back and forth for about half an hour, me trying to explain myself, and him trying to twist my words. As if an actor “hoping” to get a job was a serious offence? Did he not understand that I was merely writing down a pipe dream and that an actor dreaming of a job did not equate to an actor actually booking one?? I had brought a guitar along with me which he kept asking me to pull out and play for him. I wasn’t feeling very musical so I told him I was just learning – that it was a hobby. He then proceeded to shout at me;
“Well if you cant play guitar, WHY would you bring a guitar into the UNITED STATES?”
I’m sorry, I didn’t know that carrying a musical instrument was a crime.
Two women then came and told me to follow them into a little room adjacent to where slick-black-hair man was going through all my shit. I happily followed them, hoping they were here to tell me what was going on. They closed the door behind me and told me to remove my shoelaces, hair tie, and “excess clothing. Anything too baggy.” They then informed me I was about to be strip searched and undergo a drugs and weapons test. Excellent. I don’t know if you’ve ever been strip searched at an airport, but before they make you spread eagle against a wall and check your butt crack for cocaine, they make you count up all your valuables and sign off on them in case you go to prison, which by this stage I was sure I was headed.
After determining that I was not, in fact, carrying illicit substances in my non-existent cleavage, the slick-black-hair man came back and gleefully told me that back in 2013, I had stayed one day over my ESTA visa. ONE. DAY. So of course, he sent me to processing where I was to be interrogated for 7 hours before being turned around on the next flight back to Australia. Just so we’re clear, being interrogated means that you are taken between a holding cell full of asian drug lords (one of whom asked me for my number immediately after telling me that he was being arrested for selling drugs and he had ‘forgotten’ that he had a warrant out on his name in the United States), and a small room with one officer and a pile of papers which he calls your ‘file.’ The officer told me that this two inch thick stack of papers was information about me that the immigration office had found on the internet. I don’t even know how to use the internet properly, so how they got that much information baffles me. He then proceeded to ask me a long range of questions including ‘have you ever sold human organs on the black market?’
After this, he thought it an appropriate time to offer me some pot noodles. Being sick to the core of my being, I politely declined, but as some people are kept there overnight, I guess they have to offer you something. One man in the holding cell requested 12 pot noodles, all for himself. He must have been high, because he lined them up in a row and ate them one by one, slurping them down until there was nothing left and he slumped into the corner with what I imagine must have been a very serious food coma.
Between the interrogation, the supervised toilet breaks, and the offerings of pot-noodles, I managed to splurt out that I had a really important audition coming up. This, of all things, got the officers attention.
“How important?” He asks me.
“It’s a callback for Star Wars, I’m supposed to be meeting with the director and the producers tomorrow.”
Turns out that my old mate from immigration was a big Star Wars fan. He put me back into the holding cell for another hour, and when he called me into his room again, he told me that he thought my career was about to hit a high point, and that I would be allowed into the US for one week, on parole, in order to get to the audition. Only in LA will they bend the law so that you can make it to your Star Wars audition JUST INCASE you ever become anyone of importance. By this point, I had been crying for about 6 solid hours and couldn’t really process what was happening, so by the time they had filed my paperwork and stamped a double page in my passport saying that I had been denied entry to the US and put on parole, I found myself being guided away with my suitcase and guitar in hand to pay my exit fine. As I walked away, the officer waved at me, and said,
“Don’t forget me when you’re famous! Don’t forget about what I did for you!”
A week later I was on a plane back to Australia to sort out a new visa. What a joy and a delight! I sure did think of that officer, although probably not in the way that he had hoped.
Oh, and if you’re wondering about Star Wars, I did surprisingly well. After meeting with the director and producers, I was told that they wanted to bring me in for a screen test with the rest of the cast.
But alas, a few days later, production decided that I wasn’t Asian enough.