- Friday, Jan. 26, 2007
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- LOS ANGELES
Disproving the famed Thomas Wolfe adage that "you can never go home again," Ahmet Ahmet, a creative director with bicoastal Imaginary Forces, is on his way back to Los Angeles--along with his wife and daughter--after having been in limbo for five-plus months, awaiting a visa security clearance to return from London to his stateside job. Ahmet's situation raised questions about equitably maintaining the delicate balance of civil liberties and national security, particularly since this was a case in which he had a clear right to return to the United States as a law-abiding person and an accomplished professional.
Grateful to now be able to come home and resume his career, Ahmet was in the U.K. with his family to visit his seriously ill mother last August for what was to be a two-week stay. But when he went to the U.S. Embassy to get his visa approved for a return to Southern California, he was informed that he needed a security clearance. Over the next five months, he and his family had their personal and professional lives disrupted, with no hint as to when there would be a resolution--even with the help of politicians on both sides of the Atlantic who took up his cause, Rep. Jane Harman (D-Venice, Calif.) and Parliament member Kate Hoey of the British Labor party.
Ahmet, who is a Brit of Turkish Cypriot descent, hadn't anticipated a problem re-entering the U.S. Six years ago he was granted a visa to come stateside and work at Imaginary Forces based on his being a talent of extraordinary ability, with credentials that included recognition of his artistry from the Royal Television Society and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts. His special O1 visa to work in the United States has since been renewed multiple times, the latest covering calendar year 2007. At Imaginary Forces he has distinguished himself in theatrical features (designing the movie trailer for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, the titles for Spider-Man, as well as work on Dreamcatcher) and advertising (including spots for Ford, Honda and Budweiser, as well as a Nike web/point-of-purchase film featuring Tiger Woods).
Additionally Ahmet thought he would be able to return stateside in a timely manner based on his experience visiting London in 2004; at that time he was subject to a security clearance, which took four months to get. He had reasoned that this time around there would not be an inordinate waiting period since he had a record of a past security clearance. Instead it took even longer the second time to gain authorization to return to the country. Living out of suitcases in a London apartment, Ahmet and his family could do little more than wait since they were not informed about what was causing the delay. The best that can be ascertained is that his surname, Ahmet, matches those of individuals who are ineligible to enter the United States. However the name Ahmet is as common internationally as monikers like Smith or Jones are stateside.
Given his track record, it would have been logical to assume that his identity could have been established and that he could be differentiated in a timely fashion from any other red-flagged person with the name Ahmet. But instead he and his family were detained for an extended period, making it difficult for Ahmet to take on his workload at Imaginary Forces, which supported him throughout this ordeal, paying his salary as well as his family's housing costs in London during this time.
"Ahmet is a major player at our company," said Peter Frankfurt, creative director/cofounder/executive producer of Imaginary Forces.
"Before he left for London, he had mapped out an ambitious global film for Mercedes-Benz in Germany. He made the presentation that got us the job. But he was never able to return from London in time to produce it as had been planned. He did what he could over the phone and via computer but that is no substitute for what his hands-on, in-person involvement would have meant. Thankfully, the client hung in with us and allowed us to do the job without Ahmet."
Imaginary Forces' CEO/cofounder/managing partner Chip Houghton noted that the company had to turn away a considerable amount of business "because with Ahmet not physically here, we didn't have the bandwidth to take those jobs on."
Frankfurt said of Ahmet, "He's a creative person, extremely professional but how can anyone settle down and do real work [via laptop computer and phone] when you're not only in limbo but dealing with a dying mother, having to home school a daughter because she cannot return to her middle school in Los Angeles and your reputation is being compromised by some sort of security clearance process in which you don't even know what you're being investigated for?"
SHOOT talked to Ahmet before he obtained the clearance for a stateside return. At that point, he had begun to consider resuming his career in the U.K. "We have to move on with our lives," he said. "We cannot go through much more of a protracted process. The uncertainty has been draining emotionally, financially, personally and professionally. I'm thankful for Imaginary Forces' support but this has to be resolved soon. It's been a surreal experience in which you pretty much feel powerless."
At that time, Frankfurt expressed anger and frustration over Ahmet's plight, wondering if--or how many--other law-abiding professionals are facing the same situation and being treated unfairly.