In the long run these policies will further hurt the US as normal discourse, travel, tourism, students, will all be substantial harmed the more and longer such policies remain in place. Once more Osama Bin Laden must be smiling, whereever he is.
November 3, 2002
Dear friends and family,
I would like to share with you my experience with US Customs at the Vancouver Airport yesterday. This may be a small story amongst many other stories, but I want all of you, who may be planning a trip to the US, be aware of their newest racist policy.
You may know that last week Canadian news agencies reported that Canadian Citizens born in several Middle Eastern countries (including Iran, Iraq, and Syria) were now being registered, fingerprinted and photographed, when entering the US. The announcement of this policy led to an outrage in the Canadian parliament. A day after the Canadian government criticized the US on this policy, news agencies reported that our foreign Affairs Minister, Bill Graham, was assured by US officials that the US will no longer fingerprint, photograph and "register" Canadian visitors simply because they were born in certain countries. It is in this context that yesterday's events took place.
Thinking the policy was retracted, Steven and I decided to go ahead with our previously planned trip to Orlando, were Steven was to present at a Conference. We also decided beforehand that if there was any indication that I might be fingerprinted, we
would retract our request to enter the US.
At the airport, after receiving our boarding passes, we lined up to pass through US Customs. There, I presented my Canadian passport (which records my birthplace as Iran) and consequently was asked several questions. Then, the customs officer turned to Steven and said "this may be awkward for you Sir, but we need to ask her more questions. You can accompany her over to the Customs office". At this point, I protested and said that the US officials had retracted their policy, to which he replied, "no, what our representative said is that we will not automatically screen you"!
He sent us to wait outside the US Customs office. After being called into the office, a female customs officer asked me more questions about my ties to Iran, "when did I come to Canada", "when had I last been back to Iran", "why did I go there", "do I have family there", "do I hold an Iranian passport", "do I plan to visit there in the future", etc. She proceeded to tell me about the procedures a person like myself has to go through before entering the US. They would have to "register" me, meaning: they have to conduct an interview, fingerprint and photograph me. I was told that subsequent to this registration process, if I was
admitted to the US, I could only leave the US through designated exit ports and if I were to stay more than thirty days in the US or travel within the US, I would have to report to an official.
At this point Steven and I knew that we would not go through with our trip and I told the customs officer that if this is the case, we will not travel to US. She then sent us back out to the waiting room.
Several minutes later, I was called in by myself. This time a male customs officer began asking me questions, more of the same sorts of questions. The woman customs officer, who had previously questioned me, stood behind him. She took my passport and made a photocopy. She then proceeded to tell me that if I chose not to comply with their "registration" process, the next time I would attempt to enter the US, I would be denied entry. I replied that I am a Canadian citizen and that, as our government had stated just two days earlier, all Canadian citizens are to be treated equally regardless of their place of birth. She replied, that "our congress has decided that people of certain origins should be registered." Once again, I was sent out to the waiting room.
There I waited with Steven, a few minutes later the same female customs officer approached us in the waiting area. She told me that even though I have decided not to "comply", they still need to finish the registration process (which, when I asked, included being fingerprinted and photographed). She proceeded to intimidate me by saying that when people don't want to be fingerprinted they usually have something to hide.... Then we had an argument about whether we were still in Canada or US: she insisting that we were in the US. Steven told her that we were in a pre-screening facility (still considered to be on Canadian soil) which she refused to acknowledge as true. I asked to speak with a Canadian official and she told me "no, they won't get involved in this", Steven asked to make a phone call or speak to a lawyer to which she said "but you are not being arrested" and walked away.
A few minutes later I was called in for a third time; the male customs officer was writing on a form. I began to ask him about what the woman had just told me (about completing the "registration process"), but he gestured that I remain silent and kept writing. He then gave me the form that he had been writing on. The form was titled, "Notice of ineligibility for pre-flight clearance" and none of listed reasons for such ineligibility were checked. Instead, on the bottom, he had written that I had refused to complete the "inspection in reference to enseers program". He then told me that I could go!
At that moment it was obvious that the woman had lied to me about my rights in the context of a pre-screening facility, and had attempted to coerce me into believing that I still needed to be fingerprinted and photographed. Had we not been aware that this pre-screening facility was still considered to be on Canadian soil and subject to Canadian laws and the fact that in the pre-screening facility one has the right to withdraw ones request to enter the US, I probably would have given in to her intimidation
tactics and accepted her lies.
Now, I have no idea what sort of information they have on me in their database, but I am sure I will not be able to enter the US in the future. I have no regrets, and I strongly urge anyone who might be planning a trip to the US to reconsider. There are
many more people who have had the same experience, others have been arrested and jailed, and others have decided to comply with this registration process. On principal, I refuse to be "registered" like a criminal, to be fingerprinted, photographed, and treated like a criminal. The US government has clearly put into practice a racist policy which they officially deny. I urge you (those in Canada and US) to write to your government and protest these racist policies.