HOUSTON, Texas - Mairead Corrigan Maguire thought the hard part was over. Along with fellow Nobel Laureates Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala, American landmine activist Jody Williams, and Iranian Shirin Ebadi, she had been in Guatemala, where the women had just co-hosted a three-day conference on democracy, human rights and peace that had attracted 150 female international activists.
She was probably tired and ready to get back to Belfast, where her attempts to bring about an end to The Troubles in 1976 made her at 32 the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner ever. Since then, she's been given the Pacem in Terris Award by Pope John Paul II, and the United Nations selected her (along with the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, Jordan's Queen Noor and a dozen or so other fellow Nobel Laureates) as an honorary board member of the International Coalition for the Decade.
Unfortunately for Maguire, her flight back home to Northern Ireland was routed through Houston, where none of that meant diddly. Federal Customs officials were far less interested in any of that than they were in a box on the back of the transit form she filled out on her flight.
"They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war," Maguire said later in a statement. "They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities."
Maguire was detained for two hours -- grilled once, fingerprinted, photographed, and grilled again. She missed her flight home. She was only released after an organization she helped found -- the Nobel Women's Initiative -- started kicking up a fuss.
Customs spokesperson Paula Rivera confirmed the incident to Hair Balls: "When international passengers are asking for access to the United States, we rely on them to accurately complete their forms for us. If those entry forms are not completed accurately it would be a reason to have a person referred for a secondary examination."
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Because of privacy issues, Rivera wouldn't tell us what it was that Maguire failed to disclose, but reading between both the official lines and Maguire's statement, it's safe to say that Maguire failed to admit to having been arrested in the United States. In May 2008, Maguire and 60 others were arrested for crossing a police line at a non-violent prayer protest outside of the White House.
Maguire eventually admitted she was arrested, apparently, but remains defiant that she committed no crime.
"I am not a criminal, my nonviolent acts in USA opposing the war on Afghanistan, and Iraq, are acts of conscience and together with millions of USA citizens, and world citizens, I refuse to be criminalized for opposing such illegal policies," her statement read. "Every citizen has a right, indeed a moral obligation, to nonviolent civil disobedience in the face of illegal and unjust laws, especially war. If anyone is to be criminalized for these illegal and immoral policies it is the USA Government, who must be held accountable before the International community for these acts of crime against humanity."
She added that she was disappointed that this happened in "Obama's America." But then again, she was at Bush Airport, so maybe she should have expected this shabby treatment.
And hell, at least we didn't tear-gas her and clip her with a rubber bullet like the Israelis did two years ago.