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Welcome To America

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When writer Elena Lappin flew to LA, she dreamed of a sunkissed, laid-back city.

But that was before airport officials decided to detain her as a threat to security.


Somewhere in central Los Angeles, about 20 miles from LAX airport, there is a nondescript building housing a detention facility for foreigners who have violated US immigration and customs laws.

I was driven there around 11pm on May 3, my hands painfully handcuffed behind my back as I sat crammed in one of several small, locked cages inside a security van. I saw glimpses of night-time urban LA through the metal bars as we drove, and shadowy figures of armed security officers when we arrived, two of whom took me inside.

The handcuffs came off just before I was locked in a cell behind a thick glass wall and a heavy door. No bed, no chair, only two steel benches about a foot wide.

There was a toilet in full view of anyone passing by, and of the video camera watching my every move. No pillow or blanket. A permanent fluorescent light and a television in one corner of the ceiling. It stayed on all night, tuned into a shopping channel.

As it turned out, I was to spend 26 hours in detention. My crime: I had flown in earlier that day to research an innocuous freelance assignment for the Guardian, but did not have a journalist's visa.

more >> www.guardian.co.uk
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