Why Stars Like Justin Bieber Don't Get Deported

Justin Bieber's Mug Shot By Miami Beach Police Department [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Justin Bieber [Public Domain]

As you may know, Canada's own Justin Bieber has experienced some legal troubles in the last little while, the latest was his recent arrest for drag racing and drunk driving. But that followed hard on the heels of news that he was being investigated for egging his neighbour's house in California. Egging a house isn't normally such a big deal though Bieber reportedly caused so much damage he could be charged with criminal vandalism. It's the drunk driving and drag racing that could threaten his status in the United States, at least if he was a normal person.


Inadmissibility: What it means 

Every country reserves the right to not let people in for any reason, but most countries have rules in place which tell bureaucrats and border guards who to let in and who to keep out. Most commonly, this is through visas, but just because someone qualifies for a visa by nationality - or doesn't even need a visa to enter - doesn't mean they're going to be let in. In Canada and the United States this reasoning to deny people entry is called "inadmissibility." If Bieber wasn't so rich he would be more concerned about what inadmissibility means in the US, but let's look at both:


Inadmissibility in Canada vs. Inadmissibility in the US

Like most countries, Canada and the US reserve the right to deny entry to anyone they think cannot afford to visit or live here. But there are other grounds: in both Canada and the United States you can be inadmissible on grounds of criminality, medical problems, immigration regulation violations and 'security' reasons. However, both countries interpret these four things differently. In Canada, drinking and driving is viewed as a serious crime, so an American with a recent DUI / DWI likely needs special permission to enter Canada. (This special permission is known as a Temporary Resident Permit or TRP.) In the United States, drug possession of even small amounts of drugs is viewed as a serious crime, so a Canadian with a minor possession conviction from 30 years ago may not be able to enter the United States, unless he gets special permission. (For the US, the most common type of this permission is popularly known as an "Entry Waiver" but the bureaucratese term for it is "Advance Permission to Enter as Nonimmigrant.")

The two countries have different attitudes towards medical issues too: The US posts a public list of most of the communicable diseases they view as grounds for inadmissibility. (Until recently, AIDS was one of these diseases.) The United States also reserves the right to deny entry to someone due to mental illness, such as the Canadian woman we all heard about in November. However, Canada keeps you in the dark a little more: banning someone on medical grounds is more at the visa or border officer's discretion and Canada's rules focus on whether or not the condition is communicable and whether or not the condition will pose a burden to the Canadian medical system.

Obviously the biggest difference between the two countries' concepts of inadmissibility is in the realm of immigration violations. Canada and the US have very different laws but also the penalties in the US are considerably harsher. If you are deported from Canada you can normally start petitioning for re-entry within a couple of years. In the United States they have fixed ban-periods of 3 and 10 years, depending on the reason for deportation. The American rules are normally inflexible.

Both countries also deny entry to visitors on security grounds, which are basically open to interpretation, though like any other piece of immigration legislation, more information is available publicly regarding the basis for US practices than for Canadian regulations. (Canada lists "you are a security risk" "you have committed human or international rights violations" as the grounds.)

Bieber is Canadian of course, and if he is found guilty of drinking and driving, or possession, or drag racing in Florida he could become "inadmissible" to the United States, normally grounds for deportation. Also, if Bieber is found guilty of causing enough damage to his neighbour's house in California that it's a criminal charge, he may also become "inadmissible." But Bieber probably won't get deported. Why?


Different Rules for Celebrities

You have heard of numerous cases in the past where some American or Canadian celebrity was let in to the other country temporarily, for some reason or other. People like Lindsay Lohan have needed TRPs to come to Canada. (Others aren't as lucky: Rappers such as the Game and DMX have been denied entry into Canada and even detained for a few days.) The same thing happens with Canadian celebrities going to the US, they often get waivers or "humanitarian parole."

But this isn't true for most of us. Most of us who are inadmissible have to struggle with bureaucracy and hope against hope we will be allowed in. We hear the odd story of a celebrity not being let in, but it is always some drummer of some band we've never heard of. A-list celebrities get approved for these permits when they are traveling. And, if like Bieber, they are already in the other country, not only are they not deported but usually the government does not even pretend to try to deport them. (Unless we're talking about John Lennon...) Why is that?

Both Canada and the US regularly waive the inadmissibility grounds for people who contribute to their countries economically, culturally or academically. For visitors, this is usually a temporary thing. An otherwise inadmissible, world-renowned scientist may be let into Canada for a week to attend a conference in his field, for example. It is normally on the applicant - the celebrity - to prove he or she should be let in. But celebrities are celebrities because they're famous. It's a lot easier to demonstrate your economic, cultural or academic importance to a country if everybody reviewing your case knows you already.

In Bieber's case everybody knows him. And whether or not an immigration officer or judge making a decision about Bieber likes his music, the officer or judge knows how much of a revenue machine the world's second most followed twitter user truly is. Whatever Bieber does or doesn't do for US culture, he sure helps the economy: he helps the music industry, he sells out numerous concert venues and he provides a reason for TMZ to exist. He has a clear, demonstrable economic value to the United States. His lawyers barely have to argue anything, really. If it ever came to that.


The Rest of Us

If this were someone else - say me - it wouldn't go like this. If I moved to the US for work, egged my neighbour's house to the tune of well over $400 dollars in damage, I wouldn't just be in trouble with the police. And if I went drunken drag racing the next week, and possessed drugs when I was pulled over, I would be out of the US so fast I wouldn't even know what hit me. And that's because I'm just a regular person, and I would have a hard time convincing the American government that my economic, cultural or academic value outstripped the fact that I was wilfully violating US law with apparently no remorse. So while it may seem really, really unfair that there is a different set of rules for celebrities, both the US and Canadian governments have real reasons to let these people get away with minor crimes that might otherwise end in deportation.



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