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Artists on Their Way to a Wizards of the Coast Brainstorming Session Detained by ICE

magic the gathering vivien reid core set 2019 planeswalker

Over the weekend, three artists known for their work on Magic: The Gathering were detained at Seattle’s SeaTac airport on their way to a Dungeons and Dragons brainstorming session/”concept push” at Wizards of the Coast.

Anna Steinbauer, who is the artist behind that Vivien Reid card we’ve been fawning over for a while now, along with Magali Villeneuve and Titus Lunter, arrived at SeaTac Saturday, coming from Austria, France, and the Netherlands, respectively. Villeneuve’s husband, Alex, first posted about what the artists were going through on Magali’s Twitter.

Apparently, all three were told that they were in violation of the terms of their ESTA visa waivers. According to the U.S. Customs website, the ESTA (Electronic System for Travel Authorization) “is an automated system that determines the eligibility of visitors to travel to the United States under the Visa Waiver Program (VWP). Authorization via ESTA does not determine whether a traveler is admissible to the United States. U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers determine admissibility upon travelers’ arrival.”

That seems like an incredibly inefficient and bizarre system for travel, but the artists say they’ve never had an issue with the program before, and that these visa waivers should allow them to travel freely for business and for pleasure.

This time, though, all three were pulled out of customs and questioned by immigration officials for hours. When it was determined that they wouldn’t be allowed to enter the country, it was 3AM and there were no more flights out until the next day. Not allowed to sleep at the airport, the artists were handcuffed and taken to a separate ICE detention center.

Lunter described the experience on his own Twitter account:

Here we were booked and checked into our jail cells. These are, as you can imagine, austere and not comfy. There were no beds but we were given a blanket and some sanitation utensils. We would spend 11 hours here, we were fed and had access to water. To me, the whole experience was very traumatizing.

In the morning we were cuffed, put into transport and escorted back to the airport where we would wait in uncertainty about our flight status. Some friendly personnel allowed us another phone call to let people know. After that, we were escorted by police to our gate for our flight and our stuff would be returned to us upon arrival.

Lunter asks people not to “play the blame game” and makes sure to describe the immigration officials as “courteous.” That’s comforting to know, and it, in some ways, highlights how broken the system (if not those tasked with enforcing the system) is.

“It has been an incredibly long, frustrating, scary weekend, and we are still trying to sort out all the details and what it means for us moving forward,” he writes. “We have the greatest respect for all parties involved but are sad we had to fall victim to the systems in place.”

Because the three were found in violation of the terms of their ESTAs (“whether [they] knew it or not”), they were at risk of being banned from the U.S. for five years. Since they cooperated, they instead just have to get full visas when entering the country from now on.

The artists thanked Wizards of the Coast for their help and support during the detainment. For their part, WotC released this statement on their MtG Twitter page:

It’s nice to know that Wizards of the Coast supports their independent artists, and I suppose we can all rest easy knowing ICE is out there protecting us all from the real national threat: creative nerds.

(H/T i09 , image: WotC/Magic the Gathering/Anna Steinbauer)

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Vivian Kane (she/her) is the Senior News Editor at The Mary Sue, where she's been writing about politics and entertainment (and all the ways in which the two overlap) since the dark days of late 2016. Born in San Francisco and radicalized in Los Angeles, she now lives in Kansas City, Missouri, where she gets to put her MFA to use covering the local theatre scene. She is the co-owner of The Pitch, Kansas City’s alt news and culture magazine, alongside her husband, Brock Wilbur, with whom she also shares many cats.