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Whitehorse musicians denied entry to Alaska

Posted: Sunday, October 29, 2000

FAIRBANKS (AP) -- U.S. immigration officials denied entry to a popular Whitehorse Irish folk band last week, apparently for failing to produce work visas.

Rick Sward and Amelia Slabogen, who play as the band ''Fishhead Stew,'' had hoped to record songs, meet with friends and perform -- but not necessarily for a fee -- at Fairbanks venues.

Friends of the Whitehorse residents told the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner that immigration officials turned the pair back at the Alaska Highway immigration office.

Inspector Carlos Hernandez, the immigration inspector on duty Friday, declined to discuss the matter. But he affirmed two Whitehorse residents were turned back late Tuesday or early Wednesday for lack of work visas.

''They've been caught here before,'' he said.

Hernandez deferred to his supervisor, who could not be called at home, he said.

Officials also denied the band entry to Alaska in 1998 and this time banned the group from entering the state for five years, the pair told Kliff Hopson, drummer for Gangly Moose. Band members could not be reached in Whitehorse.

Hopson arranged for Fishhead Stew to play advertised gigs at Fairbanks bars.

''This is just insane,'' he said. ''They were very upset. They were really bummed.''

Christa Wisneski, who sometimes plays clarinet and percussion for the duo at Alaska performances, calls the band's trouble with border officials a ''continuing saga.'' Any money the group makes wouldn't cover the cost of the visas, she said.

''I think it's totally unfair,'' Wisneski said. ''It's just really a bummer, because everybody loves these guys so much.''

A temporary U.S. work Visa costs $110, according to the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service.

''These guys don't make any money, you know. None of us make any money playing bars. It's just enough to cover gas,'' Hopson said.

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