Lacrosse controversy pits N.Y. lawmakers against State Dept.

An international controversy involving lacrosse players from the Iroquois nation put New York lawmakers at odds this week with officials at the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

The issue at hand? Obtaining the necessary documents required for the players to travel to England to play in the Lacrosse World Championship.

Members of the Iroquois nation traditionally carry passports issued by the Iroquois Confederacy, but a newly adopted Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative requires that Americans carry a specific type of document to travel outside the United States, and the Iriquois passport doesn't meet these requirements.

Further complicating matters is the fact that Britain refuses to issue visas to Iriquois passports.

Late Wednesday, the State Department announced that it had granted the players a one-time waiver at the request of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Spokesman P.J. Crowley cited "the unique circumstances of this particular trip."

The game of lacrosse was first played by Native Americans more than 1,000 years ago. 

This fact was not lost on Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who lobbied earlier in the week on the players' behalf. “These players are part of a wonderful tradition and an important legacy, both in the Native American culture and within the broader sports world,” Slaughter said.

She stressed that the same core group of players (shown here visiting Times Square in New York CIty) had traveled internationally for more than 20 years without interruption to participate in the England tournament.

Rep. Dan Maffei (D-N.Y.), also spoke on behalf of the players Wednesday, rejecting an initial State Department offer of U.S. passports to the players.

“To this team, accepting U.S. passports would be akin to denouncing their own national and ethnic identity,” Maffei said. “It is a matter of principle to them, and the State Department and Department of Homeland Security have lost the forest from the trees in refusing to allow the team to travel as citizens of an indigenous nation.”

But even with the special late-stage exemption, the team isn't out of the woods yet.  

On Wednesday evening a spokesman for the British Home Office expressed doubt that the players would be granted visas to enter the U.K., telling the Associated Press, "These passports are not internationally recognized as valid air travel documents."