By Lindsay Whitehurst
The past drug use that Prince Harry detailed in his explosive memoir should spark the release of his immigration paperwork, a conservative American think tank argued in a Washington court Tuesday as they appealed to a judge for a quicker response a records request the U.S. government has so far deemed private.
The hearing played out, coincidently, as the Duke of Sussex himself testified London in another lawsuit he filed against British newspapers. In Washington, U.S. District Judge Carl Nichols told the Heritage Foundation and the Department of Homeland Security to work on the speed of the response, and he would rule if they could not reach an agreement on their own.
Harry moved to Southern California with his wife Meghan Markle and their young family in 2020 after they left royal life and embarked on new projects, including the release of his memoir “Spare” in January.
The book’s myriad revelations included an exploration of Harry’s grief after the death of his mother, Princess Diana, disputes with his brother William and his past drug use. Harry said he took cocaine several times starting around age 17, in order “to feel. To be different.” He also acknowledged using cannabis and psychedelic mushrooms.
The U.S. routinely asks about drug use on its visa applications, and it has been linked to travel headaches for celebrities, including chef Nigella Lawson, singer Amy Winehouse, and model Kate Moss. But acknowledgement of past drug use doesn’t necessarily bar people from entering or staying in the country.
With that history in mind, the conservative Heritage Foundation sent a public-information request to the Department of Homeland Security for Prince Harry’s immigration records.
They argue there is “intense public interest” in whether Harry got special treatment during the application process. The politically conservative group also linked those questions to wider immigration issues in the U.S., including at the southern border with Mexico.
“What this case is truly about is DHS,” said Samuel Dewey, a lawyer for the Heritage Foundation.
The request has largely been denied since the group doesn’t have Prince Harry’s permission to get the private information.
“A person’s visa status is confidential,” said John Bardo, an attorney for the Department of Homeland Security.
The agency’s policy does allow the release of information about issues of public interest, but the agency argued that media coverage of how Harry’s drug use connects to his visa status in the U.S. hasn’t been widespread among mainstream American publications.
The questions that have been raised, meanwhile, aren’t the kind of weighty queries about possible government misdeeds that warrant the fast processing the Heritage Foundation is asking for, federal attorneys argued.
A representative for Harry did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.
While two of the three agencies involved have denied the request, Department of Homeland Security headquarters hasn’t formally responded and is fighting the foundation’s push to act quickly. Nichols expressed frustration at being asked to decide the narrow question whether to order a fast response, but said he would rule if the two sides couldn’t come to an agreement on their own within a week.
Privacy is also at the center of the lawsuit Harry filed against the publisher of the Daily Mirror that was the subject of his testimony in London on Tuesday.
That suit is playing out thousands of miles away over 33 articles published between 1996 and 2011. He says they were based on phone hacking or other illegal snooping methods. Harry testified that Britain’s tabloid press had a “destructive” role throughout his life, but also faced sharp questioning from a newspaper’s lawyer about whether he could remember reading the articles.