The boorish treatment of a respected Colombian journalist who was barred from the United States last week has again shown the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service to be one of the most arrogant of federal bureaucracies.
Patricia Lara, a reporter for one of Colombia's leading newspapers, El Tiempo of Bogota, was detained by the INS Oct. 12, when she arrived in New York to attend, as a guest, an awards ceremony at Columbia University for the Maria Cabot Moor Prizes, which honor distinguished journalism in Latin America.
Lara was seized, according to INS officials, because her name appears in a "Lookout Book" of people not to be admitted to the United States. There was little further explanation, even when New York's regional immigration commissioner ruled that Lara should be expelled from the country, except a mention of a law barring visitors who might "engage in subversive activities." Lara's government has protested her treatment and detention, and with good cause.
Even if there were a legitimate reason for barring Lara, there is no excuse for the way she was treated. Lara was held incommunicado for at least 12 hours after her initial arrest, first in a hotel, then in an INS detention center and--after she publicly protested the treatment--in a federal jail in New York City where criminal suspects are held. Lara has traveled freely in and out of this country before, with the same passport and visa she carried on this trip, according to her friends. What changed? INS officials in Washington, who we hope have better judgment than than their New York agents, owe both Lara and the American public an answer to that question. Better answers are also needed from the State Department, which now claims Lara should not have been issued a visa in the first place.
Until the answers are produced, the affair will stand as one more example of the arbitrary and often shabby way that some INS officials use the absolute power they have over foreigners and immigrants to the United States.