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A Principled Pak-Canadian's Encounter with the US Immigration

Muzaffar Iqbal

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 George Town 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 wheel 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 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 wheel chair 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. "O, 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 wheel chair 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 finger printed. 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 finger printing; 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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Your Comments

Another Blindfolded American, washington, dc, usa - wrote on 3/12/2003 8:58:21 AM
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Comment: Dear Mr. Iqbal, As an Americn-American-Muslim (note, that i have to "double qualify" my own nationality, because my brown skin color draws question to my patriotism), I would like to thank you for sharing this life-scarring experience with the world. I wish that wheelchair-bound senior citizen will also relate here story in Farsi to her own community, and in her own way. I am sure that the US Government's CIA, FBI, INS, NSA, DOJ (and the list goes on) are tapping into this website for intelligence gathering purposes. Hopefully, If God willls, they will get some "intelligence" about the inhumane treatment they impose on their fellow human beings. Respectfully yours, Another Blindfolded American


S.P. Wakil, Canada - wrote on 2/26/2003 7:18:31 PM
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Comment: I read this article in the paper, over the Net and through personal e.mail. Dr. Muzaffar is a personal friend, a person whom I respect, and an author of some renoun: [Inkh'a^la; Inq'ta'a; From Sad Generations to Baghh(?); Hallaj...(?); Urdu Short Story (? Oxford U. Press) ; editor, Pakistan Literature, among others. Also, world-level association with Islamic administrative and organizational work]. His twice monthly columns appears in the NEWS. I am, however, not making a further reference to him here because I see commercial messages along with this article. I wonder what is the correlation between the two. Is he endorsing these commercials, is he a partner of a percentage of sales [no harm; we all have to earn our livelihoods.] or whether a percentage of the proceeds is to go to his charitable work, or is it happening without his knowledge and/or participation? Somebody at soundvision.com should clarify. I am not concerned, really, one way or the other. However, I feel I must have some idea as to the nature of this relationship for my piqued curiosity to sit at rest. **** He is as principled as a self-respecting person should be. I am so glad that he declined to enter the US. This is a model of behaviour before us to follow and emulate. So far as 'profiling' or discrimination etc. are concerned, they are part of our lives now for many decades to come. There is only one way to get out of them and that is implied in the question of the lady from Iran in Toronto. She says the "Americans think they can discriminate and insult people, and everybody should obey them!" Yes, they can, and yes, they will continue to do so. And why? Because WE have placed them in this position. They can go in Afghanistan and do the "regime-change" bit; they want the same in Iraq and who does, and can, oppose them? Muslim nations? No, theWestern nations. The Germanys, the Frances, the Russias, the people of Australia, the UK., Italy, Spain! Their allies? They include: Pakistan, Kazakhistan, kryghyzstan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Behrain, Qatr, Yemen, Oman, [those who don't or won't object: Morroco, Sudan, (now, Syria too), Jordan, all the UAE states, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Libya, Tunisia ..... To wit: all the countries of the Arab League {minus Iraq}, or all the 57 countries of the OIC]! It has to be the height of idiocy to be the slimy "wretched" of the humanity and expect others to treat you with respect. For them to be civilized enough to treat you otherwise. Why should others be "ashamed" to treat us the way we have presented ourselves to be treated? We should say sayonara to the Gandhi-British modelof humility and the 'old-world' conscience, I think. The British were never afraid of Gandhi because he showed them their immoral or unethical face. That may have been true only of a handful of individuals, or of Battenberg [Mount Batten] who besides meeting Gandhi had already met Nehru with whom both the husband and wife had fellen in love. No, the British were afraid of Gandhi's power in numbers. Nobody should remain under the false impression of the moral and "conscience" power of "the-fast-unto-death". Just remember how many people fasted-unto-death" and died in Northern Ireland. Nobody gave a damn to those deaths!! The reason Gandhi succeeded where others failed was the fact that there were 400 million people behind him who would have reduced the "British Indian Empire" to ashes had the Brits not paid attention to Gandhi'S wishes. The Americans are too crude to be driven by that kind of conscience, morality or ethics that characterized parts of the old world of the 20th century. The Americans are the breed which thrived on the 'opening of the West' where their civility was confined to making tobacco pouches of the breasts of the Indian women whose tribes they had dislocated and slaughtered in the process of 'opening' of the west! It shouldn't take the proverbial brain surgeon or the space scientist to figure out that a scapegoat is a safegoat! And we are as safe as they come!! Yes, we will be treated the way the Americans want us to trea; till the day, that is, when we make our presence felt by work, superior knowledge, research, analysis predicated on honesty, civility, an internalized empathy for others and moral ethics of the spirit of discovery, physical and spiritual. Progress par excellence! And even then we shall not be superior to anybody; just good enough for ourselves.


S.P. Wakil, Canada - wrote on 2/26/2003 3:08:41 PM
Rating: Rating

Comment: I read this article in the paper, over the Net and through personal e.mail. Dr. Muzaffar is a personal friend, somebody I respect, and an author[Inkh'a^la; Inq'ta'a; From Sad Generations to Baghh(?); Hallaj...(?); Urdu Short Story (?) Oxford U. Press; editorship of Pakistan Literature, among many others. Also, world-level association with Islamic work and Organizations]. I am, however, not making a reference of this "contact" to him since I see commercial messages alongwith this article. I wonder what is the correlation between the two. Is he endorsing these commercials, is he a partner of a percentage [no harm; we all have to earn livelihood one way or the other.] a percentage or the proceeds are to go to his charitable work, or is it happening without his knowledge and/or participation? Somebody at should clarify. I am not affected, really, one way or the other. However, I feel I must have some idea as to the nature of this relationship for my piqued curiosity to sit at rest.


sonia, toronto - wrote on 2/18/2003 11:57:25 AM
Rating: Rating

Comment: i am so disappointed by this. but then i am also ashamed of the lack of agreement that moslems have amongst one another, i truly beleive that we should forget out country and forget our rulers and just unite firmly on the base of our relegion.its time we became a power to reckon with


khurrum, london - wrote on 2/18/2003 8:30:26 AM
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Comment: well it seems that being a muslim now is far worse then being a jew . is this because of our own selves our because of the racialism found in the western world . I think we are not thinking as nation of islam but the westen world is thinking like an ummah or nation . this has been demonstrated time and time again. if we help each other with one voice then can we demand our rights .


Shazia, Sweden - wrote on 2/13/2003 1:46:06 PM
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Comment: 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.


ROSEMARIE FIGUEROA, New York City - wrote on 2/2/2003 4:38:55 PM
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Comment: 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


HK, Houston - wrote on 1/6/2003 6:07:58 PM
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Comment: 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.


Mary--- Persian, Toronto - wrote on 1/2/2003 12:17:11 PM
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Comment: 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.


Princess, Ontario - wrote on 12/30/2002 11:22:19 PM
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Comment: 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.


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