A principled Pakistani-Canadian's encounter with U.S. Immigration

Terminal 1 of Toronto Airport

I arrived at Toronto airport at 1:50 pm (December 12, 2002) after a four hour flight from Edmonton. I had one hour to clear US customs and immigration before boarding my flight for Washington DC. I had been invited by the Georgetown University’s center for Christian-Muslim understanding for the meeting of the Advisory Committee for planning a major conference next year, "science in the Islamic World."

At the immigration counter, I hand my Canadian passport to one Kulczyk, who scans it and stares at his computer screen. He asks the usual questions: where are you going, why, for how long. I explain.

Then he looks at his computer screen again and after a few seconds, he turns off the screen, picks up his stamp and walks to a counter behind all other counters; this one says: Immigration Supervisor. But on his way, he meets another officer and says something to him. "For sure," the other officer says, "for that you have to second him."

Mr. Kulczyk talks to his supervisor and comes back to me. "Come with me, sir," he says. I follow him to another office. There are 10 other people sitting there, including a very old woman on a whee chair. They all look upset and exasperated.

I sit quietly and wait. Time passes. Five immigration officers continuously walk in and out of their offices which are made by erecting walls in the hall where we are all sitting. People are taken in, they are interviewed and some come out in tears, others are given some papers and still others are being fingerprinted and photographed. Everything is happening in slow motion. No one is in a rush.

2:45: My flight is at 3:00. Will I make it?

"Aslamo Alaikum," the person sitting next to me says quietly. We talk. He is an Afghan who has lived in the United States for more than a decade. He came to Canada two days ago to visit his cousin. Now he cannot go back. "I am US citizen, but they say they cannot find my citizenship records in their computers. They have called my wife, my employer, everyone, but still, I am sitting here for the last four hours."

The old woman on the wheelchair is also sitting there since morning. She only speaks Persian. She does not understand why she is being held. No one explains.

New passengers arrive. Each one in fury. But after a while, they resign to their situation and sit. Some talk to each other. There is one Anglophone, all others are from somewhere outside North America. Five passengers who were brought to the room after me, were processed while I was sitting there.

3:50: I go to the Supervisor, an Afro-American. "I have already missed my flight. I understand your need for security, but you have no right to disrupt people’s lives. Can you tell me what is going on. Is there an order? Why are others being processed and I am held."

"Sir, we are doing our best. Some cases are more complicated."

"I understand, but if I could make the 4:50 flight, I would appreciate it."

"I will see, just have a seat."

I go back to my seat.

Ten minutes later, the supervisor passes by. I get up. "Oh, just a minute," he says, as if he has just recalled something. He goes to a room and returns. "Someone will be with you shortly."

When I am called by an officer, I go to one of the side rooms with him.

"So, you are a Pakistani citizen," he says.

"No, I am a Canadian citizen, you have my passport in front of you."

"I mean you were born in Pakistan."

"Yes."

"When were you in Pakistan last time?"

"2000."

"Where else have you been?"

"Since when?"

"During the last few months."

"Saudi Arabia, Spain, England, Kazakhstan."

"What were you doing in Saudi Arabia?"

"I went for Pilgrimage."

"Kazakhstan?"

"A UNESCO conference."

"What do you do?"

"I am a writer."

"I will be back in a few minutes."

He leaves the room with my passport.

I notice a sign on the wall. "All conversations in this room will be recorded." There is a video camera next to the sign.

He returns after 5 minutes and asks the same questions, more or less.

I repeat my answers.

"Come with me," he says, "this is not my computer. We need to go to another office."

In the new office, he tells me that he will have to enroll me in the program called "Special Registration Procedures for Visitors and Temporary Residents."

The way he said it, sounds like a reward air miles program that would allow fast entry to the US. He gives me a piece of paper, which is a photocopy of a brochure by U.S. Department of Justice, Immigration and Naturalization Service (Form M-526(09/11-02).

"I will have to ask you a few questions," he says, "but I give you this other information which I generally give out at the end." He gives me a few more sheets of paper.

"If I could make the 4:55 flight, that would be great."

"We will try."

"What is your postal address?" I tell him my address.

"Postal code?"

I tell him the postal code which he mistypes. I point out the mistake. He corrects it and then moves the computer screen away from my sight.

I sit back and quickly glance at the brochure. I read: "You will be fingerprinted, photographed, asked to show documents, and interviewed as to the length and purpose of your stay in the United States…"

"Does this apply to me?" I ask, "this fingerprinting stuff…"

"Yes," he says, still looking at his computer screen.

"I refuse to be treated as a criminal. I have lived in Canada for 22 years and your Secretary of State has just assured us that we will not be discriminated on the basis of our country of birth."

"I will have to call my supervisor." he said and left the room, only to return with the supervisor–the same person with whom I had talked earlier.

"Let me explain to you, Mr. Iqbal," the supervisor says, picking up my passport from the desk, "what this program is about."

Now I have a name. I look at him. He is wearing a name tag: He is M. Samuel.

"I have already read the brochure," I say, "I refuse to be treated like a criminal. I have been invited by the Georgetown University to help them in planning a conference and I am not interested in subjecting myself to this treatment. Your Secretary of State was in Ottawa recently and he made a public statement that no Canadian citizen will be discriminated on the basis of country of birth."

"You know how politicians have to make such statements," Mr. Samuel says, "but we have to follow the rules."

"I understand that. But rules are only accessible to you. General public goes by what they are told through public statements."

"We have to protect our country."

"Indeed, you have the right to do so, but you cannot humiliate citizens of other countries. There is an 85 year-old woman sitting on a wheelchair outside this room. Do you think she is going to attack your country… she can hardly stand on her feet."

"We go by the rules, sir," he says.

"I refuse to be fingerprinted. Our government has also assured us that it will not tolerate such things. And Pakistan was not even on the list."

"Now, it is, and they are adding more countries everyday. But if you do not want to register, that is your choice. We will have to refuse entry or say that you withdrew your application."

"That is fine."

I quickly pick up my passport because just then I gleaned from the brochure that "If you decide that you do not want to or cannot follow the special registration procedures, you may be allowed to withdraw your application for admission into the United States, but you may still be fingerprinted, photographed, and interviewed by INS inspecting officer as part of the withdrawal process."

The brochure also explains that all registered persons are required to report to the INS if they are staying more than 30 days, the registered visitors can only leave the United States from certain designated points of departure and they must report their departure to INS, failing which, they can be arrested, fined or both. If they travel to different places in the US, they are required to "bring documents to INS to show who and where [they] are visiting."

I realize suddenly that the registeration system is much more than just initial fingerprinting; it is a complete code of  apartheid based on race, religion and country of origin.

"What happens if Air Canada does not book me on today’s flight to Edmonton?"

"They will put you on the next available flight, we have an understanding with the airlines."

"But what if they have no seat? Will INS cover the hotel expenses?"

"No, we do not have such provisions."

"So, what would I do?"

He has no answer, he shrugs his shoulders.

I leave with the officer, who takes me to the air Canada counter. No one is now responsible for my wasted time.

The person at the Air Canada counter sends me to the domestic counter and there I am booked on a flight back to Edmonton. My ticket is not changeable, I cannot even return without a Saturday stay but after a few minutes of arguments, the supervisor waives the conditions and the additional charges and arrive back in Edmonton at 10:00 pm, 14 hours after leaving.


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Center for Islam and Science
www.cis-ca.org
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Comments

It is outrageously humiliating what you you were put through. I hope and pray things change for you and all of us Muslims.

Location

Calgary

Sad Story.I am Afraid this is only the begining of a new Type of aparthied. May god be with you and all of the Muslim Umaa. Peace

Location

NJ

Its a suprise that the "biggest" democracy in the world can not handle such a security problem without creating more enemies for itself, remember the strenght of America is created 30% by immigrants. If for example the old woman dies due to the stress will her children forgive America?

Location

Lagos - Nigeria

I am shocked with this Canadians experience at the hands of Americans. I myself am from Edmonton though now living in Europe. In general I think the rest of the world should start considering boyotting America and its capatilism. Stop eating at Macdonalds and Pizza Hut, Don't buy Levis Jeans. It may just be a small thing but if you all did it.Americans have got to learn that they are not the King of the planet. We (nonamericans) demand respect.Sa-Sa

Location

Denmark

shocking but not unexpected!So apt isthe description that one feels stifled by the experience of Br.Iqbal. Such is the knee jerk reaction of this High and Mighty power that one needs to reflect on the venomous and inhumane Apartheid Era of S.Africa, where every Brown person was selectively isolated and scrutanised and persecuted. Some unfotrtunately were interrogated tortured and pushed out of the John Vorster Building or mutilated and maimed. And yet it was the USA who ironically spearheaded its opposition to the inhumanity of the white racist regime in Pretoria. around. This is the beginning of persecution of the Ummah.Wherever you are. This is the the test of its immune system. This is a time for solidarity and empathy for our innocent brothers and sisters.For the opportunistic predator is waiting to invade ones immune system given the slightest flaw in the tapestry of the Ummah. We condemn those who terrorise Humanity . This is totally against Islamic Doctrines.But it gives no one any right to persecute innocent Muslims for the crimes perpetrated by madmen.Nevertheless the Almighty is with those who persevere and act with Wisdom . Mahmood

Location

Australia.

I am living at Ontario-Canada and had face the same tragedy on August 2001 even before Sept 11th, 2001 at Toronto airport, I was travelling for my sister's wedding at US with my country passport, landed papers and a 5 year multiple visa to the States, I get finger printed and photographed like a criminal but I did not have a choice whether to share my family in their happy moments or regret going there. so americans were applying these rules even before, but look it did not do them any good they end up with Sept 11th what a petty.

Location

Ontario

Hi, My sister is leaving in state more than 13 years. In Agues my mom came here in Canada to visit me after one year and she got a visa to go to state to visit my sister and her husband who is American and my mom didn't meet him before. My mother can't speak English and she's about 54 years old. They didn't allow me to go with her, I was waiting there till her flight gone. However, they kept my mom in the immigration room. They fingerprinted her and asked too many silly questions, fortunately there was a Persian guy there to translate for my mom. She lost her flight and all of us were worry for her. American think that they can discriminate and insult people, and everybody should obey them! Such a shame.

Location

Toronto

At least Mr. Iqbal had a Canadian citizenship and was aware about rules and regulations about Canadian citizens, but what about citizens of the listed countries especially those who are old and cant speak the language? May Allah swt show us the way so we can bring a change in this society for the good.

Location

Houston

What Mr. Iqbal had to undergo is a disgrace to our own constitution.I am an American Muslim, and of Puerto Rican decent; Because I resemble a Pakistani women, I can not begin to tell the horrible things that have been said to me since the 9/11 nightmare.It's as if I am re-living the nightmare on a daily basis. which is very hard for me because I just excepted Islam a little less than year ago. My husband says to me that this is my jihad in life. One day the truth shall set all muslims free from this nightmare. Peace be upon all Bothers and Sisters

Location

New York City

I don't know what to say...I find this article very disturbing...because it's real...I guess all we can do is to prepare for harder times and pray for everyone who has to go thru unjust and unfair treatment, and remember that inshAllah whoever treats another person unjustly will be held accountable for it...Peace on all of our Ummah, may Allah swt, guide us and protect us from the evils of this world. ameen.

Location

Sweden

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