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U.S. Border Patrol Bars Canadian Psychotherapist With Drug Research Far in His Past

A Canadian psychotherapist who conducted research with LSD was denied entry to the United States after a border guard Googled his work.
 
 
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Andrew Feldmar, a well-known Vancouver psychotherapist, rolled up to the Blaine border crossing last summer as he had hundreds of times in his career. At 66, his gray hair, neat beard, and rimless glasses give him the look of a seasoned intellectual. He handed his passport to the U.S. border guard and relaxed, thinking he would soon be with an old friend in Seattle. The border guard turned to his computer and googled "Andrew Feldmar."

The psychotherapist's world was about to turn upside down.

Born in Hungary to Jewish parents as the Nazis were rising to power, Feldmar was hidden from the Nazis during the Holocaust when he was three years old, after his parents were condemned to Auschwitz. Miraculously, his parents both returned alive and in 1945 Hungary was liberated by the Russian army. Feldmar escaped from communist Hungary in 1956 when he was 16 and immigrated to Canada. He has been married to Meredith Feldmar, an artist, for 37 years, and they live in Vancouver's Kitsilano neighbourhood. They have two children, Soma, 33, who lives in Denver, and Marcel, 36, a resident of L.A. Highly respected in his field, Feldmar has been travelling to the U.S. for work and to see his family five or six times a year. He has worked for the UN, in Sarajevo and in Minsk with Chernobyl victims.

The Blaine border guard explained that Feldmar had been pulled out of the line as part of a random search. He seemed friendly, even as he took away Feldmar's passport and car keys. While the contents of his car were being searched, Feldmar and the officer talked. He asked Feldmar what profession he was in.

When Feldmar said he was psychologist, the official typed his name into his Internet search engine. Before long the customs guard was engrossed in an article Feldmar had published in the spring 2001 issue of the journal Janus Head . The article concerned an acid trip Feldmar had taken in London, Ontario, and another in London, England, almost forty years ago. It also alluded to the fact that he had used hallucinogenics as a "path" to understanding self and that in certain cases, he reflected, it could "be preferable to psychiatry." Everything seemed to collapse around him, as a quiet day crossing the border began to turn into a nightmare.

Fingerprints for FBI

He was told to sit down on a folding chair and for hours he wondered where this was going. He checked his watch and thought hopelessly of his friend who was about to land at the Seattle airport. Three hours later, the official motioned him into a small, barren room with an American flag. He was sitting on one side and Feldmar was on the other. The official said that under the Homeland Security Act, Feldmar was being denied entry due to "narcotics" use. LSD is not a narcotic substance, Feldmar tried to explain, but an entheogen. The guard wasn't interested in technicalities. He asked for a statement from Feldmar admitting to having used LSD and he fingerprinted Feldmar for an FBI file.

Then Feldmar disbelievingly listened as he learned that he was being barred from ever entering the United States again. The officer told him he could apply to the Department of Homeland Security for a waiver, if he wished, and gave him a package, with the forms.

The border guard then escorted him to his car and made sure he did a U-turn and went back to Canada.

'Curious. Very curious'

Feldmar attended the University of Toronto where he graduated with honours in mathematics, physics and chemistry. He received his M.A. in psychology from the University of Western Ontario. At University of Western Ontario, he was under supervision with Zenon Pylyshyn, who was from Saskatchewan and had participated, along with Abram Hoffer and Duncan Blewett, in the first experiments with LSD-25.

"Zenon told me he had had enough strange experiences, that he had gone about as far with LSD as he wished to go. He still had what was once legal. ... Looking back 33 years, I don't quite recall why I decided to accept his tentative offer. I was 27 years old and thought of myself as a rational scientist, and had no experience with delirium, hallucination, or altered mind states. I was curious. Very curious. I thought that, like Faust, I might make a pact with the devil in return for esoteric knowledge."

Zenon gave him 900 micrograms of acid and the surprise of his life, he wrote in the Janus Head article. "Following this initiation, I traveled to many regions many times with the help of many different substances. I took peyote, psilocybin mushrooms, cannabis, MDMA, DMT, ketamine, nitrous oxide 5-MEO-DMT, but I kept coming back to LSD. Acid seemed my most spacious, most helpful ally. While on it, I explored my past, regressed to the womb, to my conception. I remembered, grieved, and mourned many painful events. I saw how my parents would have liked to love me, and how they didn't because they didn't know how. I learned, on acid, to endure troubling and frightening states of mind. This enabled me, as meditation has done, to identify with being the witness of the workings of my mind, observing whatever was going on, while knowing that I was simply captivated by the forms produced by my own psyche."

After receiving his MA, Feldmar spent a semester in the U.S. at the Johns Hopkins University's Ph.D. program in theoretical statistics. In 1969, he began Ph.D. work with Dr. Charles Osgood in psycholinguistics at the University of Illinois at Champagne Urbana. He did further Ph.D. studies at Simon Fraser University.

Legal options expensive

Feldmar was determined, in the months after the aborted border crossing, to turn things around. He was particularly determined because the idea of not being able to visit his children at their homes was unthinkable.

He contacted the U.S. Consul in Vancouver to protest and was again told to apply for a waiver. When he consulted Seattle attorney Bob Free at MacDonald, Hoague and Bayless about going through this process, he learned that for $3,500 (U.S.) plus incidentals, he'd have a 90 per cent chance to get the waiver, but it would probably be just for a year, and the procedure would have to be initiated again, any time he wished to cross the border. Each time, he would have to produce a statement saying that he had been "rehabilitated."

He looked into filing suit against the U.S. government for wrongdoing but gave up the idea when he learned that a legal battle with U.S. Customs would cost his life's savings and, with the balance of power tipped so extremely in the government's favor, he would almost surely lose.

Again, he appealed to the U.S. Consulate. The consulate wouldn't return his phone calls, but in this e-mail message to Feldmar, the consulate explained its position.

"Both our countries have very similar regulations regarding issuance of visas for citizens who have violated the law. The issue here is not the writing of an article, but the taking of controlled substances. I hear from American citizens all the time who have decades-old DUI convictions who are barred from entry into Canada and who must apply for waivers. Same thing here. Waiver is the only way."

Ensnared by Section IV

"Admitted drug use is admitted drug use," says Mike Milne, spokesman for U.S. border and protection, based in Seattle. Milne said he could not comment specifically on the Feldmar case, due to privacy issues, but he quoted from the U.S. Immigration Law Handbook section which refers to "general classes of aliens ineligible to receive visas and ineligible for admissions" to help shed light on the clauses that may have ensnared the Vancouver psychotherapist.

"Persons with AIDS, tuberculosis, infectious diseases are inadmissible," Milne said. And then there is Section IV. "Anyone who is determined to be a drug abuser or user is inadmissible. A crime involving moral turpitude is inadmissible and one of those areas is a violation of controlled substances."

If there's no criminal record, as in Feldmar's case?

Not necessarily the criterion, Milne said. You can still be considered dangerous.

'More diligent and vigilant'

"The level of scrutiny at our nation's borders have definitely gone up since the 9-11 disaster and we are more diligent and vigilant in checking people's identities and criminal histories at our nation's borders."

Milne goes on, "There are three main areas that we have employed since 9-11 to better secure our borders. First is the number of officers we have working at our borders. We've doubled the numbers at the border. We've combined officers from Homeland Security and border protection. We brought in the officers from immigration and naturalization service, the department of agriculture and U.S. border patrol. By combining the expertise of those disparate border agencies into a single agency under a single management with the single purpose of protecting the U.S. against terrorism and other related offences, it created a more effective border agency. It created a more secure border.

"The second thing would be our information systems, our watch list systems are better shared within the U.S. government and between governments, between information sharing agreements, through Interpol, through terrorist watch list sharing internationally, we have better access for our front line officers to query information systems up to and including public based systems, including the Internet. Third, we have better infrastructure at our entries. We have cameras in some of our more remote points of entry, gates, lighting, to make them more secure. We do more checks at the borders. It depends on what level of alert we're at. At certain alert levels we do 100 per cent identity checks."

War on drugs meets war on terror

Eugene Oscapella is an Ottawa lawyer, who lectures on drug policy issues in the department of criminology at the University of Ottawa. He also works as a policy advisor to a range of government agencies and departments, including the Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada. Oscapella sees the American security system upgrades and the potential uses alarming.

"This is about the marriage of the war on drugs and the war on terror, and the blind, bureaucratic mindset it encourages. Government surveillance in the name of the war on drugs and the war on terror is in danger of making us all open books to zealous governments. As someone mentioned at a privacy conference I attended in London, U.K., several months ago, all the tools for an authoritarian state are now in place; it's just that we haven't yet adopted authoritarian methods. But in the area of drugs, maybe we have."

'Ominous omen'

Feldmar was in the process of considering whether to apply for a waiver when he sought help from Ethan Nadlemann, director of the Drug Policy Alliance in New York, whose financial backer is another Hungarian, George Soros.

Nadlemann was outraged. "Nobel Peace prize winners, some of the great scientists and writers in the world have experimented with LSD in their time. We know people are being pulled out of lines and racially profiled as part of the war against terrorism. But this is a different kind of travesty, banning someone because they used a substance in another country thirty years ago," he said.

In February he wrote Feldmar, "Not that it helps much, but I just want you to know that I have not forgotten you or your situation. I feel frustrated vis a vis the media, and on other avenues, but I am not forgetting. I really think this situation is absurd, and an ominous omen of things to come."

When Feldmar was barred from entering the U.S., he joined the ranks of other intellectuals and artists. Pop singer Cat Stevens was turned back from the U.S. in 2004, after being detained. Bolivian human rights leader and lawyer, Leonida Zurita Vargas was prevented from entering in February of 2006. She was planning to be in the U.S. as part of a three week speaking tour on Bolivian social movements and human rights. The tour would have taken her to Vermont, Harvard, Stanford and Washington D.C., but she never got beyond the airport check-in at Santa Cruz, Bolivia where she was informed her ten-year visa had been revoked because of alleged links to terrorist activity.

'Ideological exclusion provision'

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security denied Professor John Milios entry into the country upon his arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport last June. Milios, a faculty member at the National Technical University of Athens, had planned to present a paper at a conference titled "How Class Works" at the State University of New York at Stony Brook. Milios told Academe Online that U.S. officials questioned him at the airport about his political ideas and affiliations and that the American consul in Athens later queried him about the same subjects. Milios, a member of a left-wing political party, is active in Greek national politics and has twice been a candidate for the Greek parliament. Milios's visa, issued in 1996, was set to expire in November. The professor had previously been allowed entry into the United States on five separate occasions to participate in academic meetings.

The American Civil Liberties Union, on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and PEN American Center, filed a lawsuit this year challenging a provision of the Patriot Act that is being used to deny visas to foreign scholars. They did this after Professor Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss intellectual, had his visa revoked under "the ideological exclusion provision" of the Patriot Act, preventing him from assuming a tenured teaching position at the University of Notre Dame. It's a suit that attempts to prevent the practice of ideological exclusion more generally, a practice that led to the recent exclusions of Dora Maria Tellez, a Nicaraguan scholar who had been offered a position at Harvard University, as well as numerous scholars from Cuba.

In March 2005, the ACLU filed a Freedom of Information Act request to learn more about the government's use of the Patriot Act ideological exclusion provision. Cuban Grammy nominee Ibrahim Ferrer, 77, who came to fame in the 1999 film Buena Vista Social Club, was blocked by the U.S. government from attending the Grammy Awards, where he was nominated for the Best Latin album award in 2004. So were his fellow musicians Guillermo Rubalcaba, Amadito Valdes, Barbarito Torres and the group Septeto Nacional with Ignacio Pineiro. The list goes on.

Cut off from friends

Nine months after being turned back at the border, Feldmar has concluded that his banishment is permanent. The waiver process is exhausting, costly and demeaning. The David and Goliath aspect of the situation is too daunting.

This is devastating to his family and friends. "My father was doing nothing wrong, illegal, suspicious, or at all deviant in any way, when he was trying to visit the U.S.," his daughter, Soma, an instructor at a Denver college, says. "In terms of family it really sucks. "

It's hard for his friend, Alphonso Lingis, a professor of philosophy at Pennsylvania State University. "I'm deeply pained by the prospect of no longer being able to welcome him in the United States," Lingis said. "The notion that he and his work could harm anyone is preposterous. He's a victim of scandalous bureaucratic incompetence by the United States officials involved in this matter."

'Alchemist's dictum'

When Feldmar looks back on what has happened, he concludes that he was operating out of a sense of safety that has become dated in the last six years, since 9-11. His real mistake was to write about his drug experiences and post this on the web, even in a respected journal like Janus Head. He acknowledges that he had not considered posting on the Internet the risk that it turned out to be. So many of his generation share his experience in experimenting with drugs, after all. He believed it was safe to communicate about the past from the depth of retrospection and that this would be a useful grain of personal wisdom to share with others. He now warns his friends to think twice before they post anything about their personal lives on the web.

"I didn't heed the ancient Alchemists' dictum, 'Do, dare, and be silent,'" Feldmar says. "And yet, the experience of being treated as undesirable was shocking. The helplessness, the utter uselessness of trying to be seen as I know myself and as I am known generally by those I care about and who care about me, the reduction of me to an undesirable offender, was truly frightening. I became aware of the fragility of my identity, the brittleness of a way of life.

"Memories of having been the object of the objectifying gaze crowd into my mind. I have been seen and labeled as a Jew, as a Communist, as a D. P. (Displaced Person), as a student, as a patient, a man, a Hungarian, a refugee, an émigré, an immigrant. ... Now I am being seen as one of those drug users, perhaps an addict, perhaps a dealer, one can't be sure. In the matter of a second, I became powerless, whatever I said wasn't going to be taken seriously. I was labeled, sorted and disposed of. Dismissed."

Linda Solomon is an award-winning journalist who publishes The Vancouver Observer .

 
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