Not Just Dandy, Also Memoirist

Not Just Dandy, Also Memoirist

Not Just Dandy, Also Memoirist

Slate's blog on legal issues.
March 21 2008 10:39 AM

Not Just Dandy, Also Memoirist

  To respond to David’s questions on the deported dandy Sebastian Horsley, here’s the governing law from the State Department .   The United Kingdom is one of the countries recognized under the Visa Waiver Program, which is what it sounds like.   But according to the State Department site an individual otherwise eligible for a waiver must apply for a visa if the alien " [h]as a criminal record or other condition making them ineligible for a visa."  

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That infelicitously worded provision makes it sound like you have to apply for a visa if you aren’t eligible for one.   The reality is not quite so Kafkaesque.   Yes, classes of ineligible aliens include " any alien convicted of, or who admits having committed, or who admits committing acts which constitute the essential elements of, a crime involving moral turpitude."   Such aliens, however, can still be admitted if:   (1) the crime was committed when the alien was under 18; (2) the crime was committed more than five years before the visa application; or (3) "the maximum penalty possible for the crime of which the alien was convicted (or which the alien admits having committed or of which the acts that the alien admits having committed constituted the essential elements) did not exceed imprisonment for one year."  

 

Unfortunately for Horsley, none of these exceptions apply to him.   He has admitted that he spent 100,000 pounds (about $200,000) each on prostitutes, drugs, and suits.   Disclaimer:   fashion crimes are not deemed acts of moral turpitude, though Horsley was pulled out of the line for wearing a three-piece suit and a top hat on this occasion.

 

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While we’re on the sartorial point, it does seem that Horsley wanted to make an entrance to this country in more ways than one.   He had come here without incident on prior occasions.   One wonders whether this may have been because he waited until he got through customs before going into full dandy persona.   Because I don’t want to encourage end-runs around the law or stifle personality, I’m not recommending that the soignée artiste abjure the Oscar Wilde "I-have-nothing-to-declare-but-my-genius" approach to customs.   But the occupational hazard of being fashion-forward is that you do stand out.  

 

With that background in mind, let’s move to David’s questions: "What’s a poor memoirist to do when confronted at the border with his own tell-all tome?   How does he avoid getting booted for 'moral turpitude’?"   He has at least three options.   He can get all the turpitude out of his system before he is 18.   He can place a five-year moratorium on his turpitude in the years before applying for a visa.   Or he can live a life free of turpitude and write a memoir about his veterinary practice in Yorkshire, like that nice James Herriot.  

 

You also ask whether "the book was sufficient evidence of his moral failings," or whether the deportation rested "on the admission he made (presumably by confirming facts in the book) in the interview."   According to the press, his book was "considered," but it’s hard to believe it was the only ground for his deportation.   The book is 368 pages long.   The interrogation lasted for eight hours.   Perhaps the book is one of those dense poetic efforts where skimming feels itself like an act of moral turpitude.   But that’s still 50 pages an hour for one official.   Recall as well that the book is touted as an "unauthorized autobiography," which presumably means that Horsley’s superego did not hold the other parts of his self to strict levels of truthfulness.   Because of that disclaimer, it’s hard to see how officials could properly use the book as stand-alone evidence of his bad acts.   Besides, Horsley generally seems like a open person—in interviews prior to the one he had at Newark airport, he has talked about sleeping with a thousand prostitutes and why he felt the need to stage his own crucifixion.

 

And let’s not miss the silver lining.   As someone who likes reading memoirs, I, like others, was dispirited to learn that James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces and Margaret Seltzer’s Love and Consequences were fictionalized.   It’s comforting that customs officials believe that Mr. Horsley, unlike Ms. Seltzer, has done many of the things he says he has done.   I hope they put a sticker on the book to that effect.   Indeed, given that publishing houses say that fact-checking memoirs is impractical, maybe they should farm out the vetting process to the government.   The Secretary of Homeland Security could be renamed the Master of Revels, and citizens would feel safe—well, more safe--from the serious threat dandy memoirists pose to this country.

Kenji Yoshino is the Chief Justice Earl Warren Professor of Constitutional Law and director of the Center for Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging at NYU School of Law.