Magic: The Gathering Artists Denied Entry To US, Detained Overnight

Magic: The Gathering (Image: Wizards of the Coast)

On Saturday local time, three Magic: The Gathering and Dungeons & Dragons artists travelling from Europe to publisher Wizards of the Coast’s headquarters in Renton, Washington were denied entry to the country by US Customs and Border Protection and held overnight in an Immigration and Customs Enforcement facility.

“We are tired, scared and overwhelmed,” said artist Titus Lunter earlier this week in a tweet detailing the incident before adding that all returned safely to their home countries.

Magic: The Gathering fans might recognise fantasy illustrations from Lunter and co-detainees Anna Steinbauer and Magali Villeneuve on their playing cards. They’ve each illustrated several dozen. Villeneuve also recently worked on this stunning cover to Dungeons & DragonsGuildmasters’ Guide to Ravnica, an upcoming crossover campaign book with Magic: The Gathering.

The cover for an upcoming Dungeons & Dragons book (Illustration: Wizards of the Coast)

Contracted by publisher Wizards of the Coast, the artists were detained on their way to a concept push for Dungeons & Dragons at Wizards of the Coast’s Washington office. The artists are, respectively, from the Netherlands, Austria and France.

After their flights landed at Seattle’s Sea-Tac airport, Lunter wrote in a post, the contractors were “pulled out of line and put into a separate detainment area”. According to one of the artist’s tweets, their work for Wizards of the Coast may have been beyond the scope of what their ESTA Visa Waivers allowed for, leading to issues entering the country for the D&D concept push.

After what Lunter said were hours of interviews with immigration officers, the artists were handcuffed and escorted to an ICE detainment facility outside the airport. According to Lunter, they were in that facility for 11 hours where, he said, “there were no beds, but we were given a blanket and some sanitation utensils”. He added, “The experience was very traumatising.”

The next day, the artists were escorted back to the airport, where they caught flights home. In an email, ICE confirmed to Kotaku that these three artists were denied entry to the US by Customs and Border Protection and that ICE held them overnight. Steinbauer and Lunter denied requests for comment, both citing their desire for rest and healing, and Villeneuve did not return a request for comment.

When reached for comment, Wizards of the Coast referred Kotaku to tweets on their Magic: The Gathering Twitter account:


    This isn't the first time Kotaku has reported on people being denied entry to the USA (I'm sure someone can find the recent one that I couldn't).
    While it sounds like the process was traumatic for those involved the ESTA is pretty clear.
    Obviously there is not a lot of info here but "their work for Wizards of the Coast". If you are on an ESTA you can't work for someone (or an organisation) in America. So if Wizards of the Coast was paying them then you can't come in on an ESTA.
    I travel to the US a lot for business but on every occasion my employer in Australia is paying me to be there and that fits within the ESTA.
    Hopefully these stories will raise awareness of what is allowed on an ESTA.

      Sounds like Wizards of the Coast are the ones who screwed up here.

      There are so many better ways that they could handle this problem. The simplest would be to start with the assumption that not everyone visiting the USA wants to stay there . Then when someone makes a honest mistake with the Visa, give them the option to pay for the correct Visa with an extra "on-site" administration fee. I really can't see why it is necessary to handcuff people.

      This sort of nonsense is not doing the USA's image any good and I, for one, am not interested in travelling there any more. We used to be regular visitors to Hawaii, but the mood and unwelcoming nature of the border control process in the USA has now turned our tourist dollars to Europe.

        Visas take time to approve. It's not as simple as click one box and unclick another, then issue a piece of paper.

      It's a bit convoluted on the ESTA website as there are two types, Evisitor is the only one available to people from the EU though. But both have different allowances for what type of business they can conduct. Seems like they have misunderstood the difference. Although their treatment for this seems a little extreme!

      It's a little murkier than that. The ESTA waiver is supposed to be fine for business travel, but you are not allowed to 'work' for a US company while on ESTA.

      In this case presumably they're being paid by Wizards of the Coast directly under contract, so they can't come to the US and do work - even promotional work - on ESTA because that would be working in the US. However if Wizards had, say, a UK branch that they were employed by and paid by, then their trip to the US would be considered a 'business' trip and they'd be in the clear.

      Based on what's reported here I'd say this is just US Immigration doing their job. Wizards are the ones that fucked up here. The artists should have been brought over on proper work visas (I'm not an expert but the B-1 is the usual temporary work visa, and in all three of their countries of origins' cases, the visa is multiple-entry and valid for 10 years). This is why you have a HR department and lawyers. It's worth noting that Renton is suburban Seattle and you can't throw a rock without hitting a dozen foreign nationals on various work visas (I should know, I'm one), so it's not like there should be a shortage of immigration lawyers for them to have run this past.

        Yep, I agree with this. I've had family travel recently on the ESTA and Visa Waiver Program the ESTA is under and the advice they had was a pretty clear "NO PAID WORK AT ALL AND YOU'RE GOOD". All of those artists were there for "work" as one of the family members of the artists said, which is a big no no under the ESTA. Business is fine, but work is forbidden. I don't blame the artists for this mistake though, because the artists still need the help of the company to get the paperwork done for the work visa and the company should have let them know through HR since they're the experts in this situation, not the artists.

        Wizards has had issues before as well with visas. Anyone remember the nightmare that was the Australian GP in 2016 where they were giving Pros the wrong advice on what visa they needed 5 weeks out from the GP? I think some of them said they outright couldn't attend because the visa wouldn't be processed in time, so I think this is definitely on Wizards.

    Is this a repost from US site? (can't be bothered hopping on the VPN to check)

    Because at the moment there's a whole big fight about ICE and it's roles etc. so this feels like an Allure media company jumping on a political bandwagon again to get some more page views.

    Looking at it unbiased it looks like people wanted to enter a country without proper visas, were stopped, detained and ultimately sent home. Which is the job of immigration.

    Last edited 30/08/18 3:52 pm

    Yeah sounds like WoC screwed up the Visas, still though... to hell with ICE, decent treatment of anybody 'foreign' or 'non-white' seems to be something not in their comprehension. I think I'll pass on visiting 'Jesusland'.

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