Musicologist Barred from U.S. Without Explanation

Classic Arts News   Musicologist Barred from U.S. Without Explanation
Nalini Ghuman, a 34-year-old assistant professor at Mills College in California, was stopped in August 2006 at the San Francisco airport and told without explanation that she was no longer allowed to enter the U.S., reports the The New York Times.

The British-born musicologist and Elgar specialist had been living, studying and working in the U.S. for a decade, but was not given any justification for the State Department's revocation of her visa. Airport officers had no choice but to prohibit her entry, a spokewoman for the Customs and Border Protection agency in the Department of Homeland Security told the Times.

"Officers tore up her H-1B visa, which was valid through May 2008, defaced her British passport, and seemed suspicious of everything from her music cassettes to the fact that she had listed Welsh as a language she speaks," the newspaper reported. During the eight-hour detention and questioning, Ghuman said, she was groped, described as "Hispanic" in a redacted government report, and threatened with imprisonment in a detention center if she did not return to London that night.

Ghuman's requests to speak with the British consul in San Francisco were also rejected. "They told me I was nobody, I was nowhere and I had no rights. For the first time, I understood what the deprivation of liberty means."

Letters by Ghuman and her lawyer over the last year, along with extensive efforts by her fianc_ and by leading musicians and musicologists, have been futile. Leon Botstein, president of Bard College in Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, wrote to Secretary of State Condoleezza Condoleezza Rice seeking clarification and the reissuing of Ghuman's visa in time for the scholar to give a lecture at the school's Elgar and His World music festival this summer.

"The building of barriers that prevent scholars and artists from abroad from participating and working in the United States ... is a poor policy and a harmful one," Ghuman quoted Botstein as writing Rice, according to a statement reprinted by the Berkshire Fine Arts website last month. "Not only has no explanation been given for the revoking of Dr. Ghuman's visa, but no-one who knows her believes that she constitutes any sort of risk."

"I don't know why it's happened, what I'm accused of," Ghuman, an Oxford and University of California, Berkeley graduate, told the Times. "There's no opportunity to defend myself. One is just completely powerless."

"This is an example of the xenophobia, incompetence, stupidity and then bureaucratic intransigence that we are up against," said Botstein.

The U.S. Embassy in London believes this to be a case of mistaken identity, wrote Ghuman in the reprinted statement, and that they are "finding it impossible to get through to the State Department and are 'frustrated' by the lack of response from Washington. According to a recent communication received by Senator Richard Durbin [of Illinois], my visa is still 'awaiting security clearance' at the Department of State in Washington, D.C."

The daughter of an British homemaker and an Indian-born University of Wales professor of educational psychology, Ghuman is currently on an unpaid leave of absence from Mills College and tried last semester to teach her students by video link. She is working on a book called India in the English Musical Imagination, 1890-1940.

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