A Kitchener woman said she felt humiliated when her family was detained for hours at a U.S. border crossing and then denied entry into the United States.
Mehdiya Hudda, 22, planned a short shopping trip in Lewiston, N.Y., near Niagara Falls, with her mother and husband on April 26, returning to Canada the same evening. The family is Muslim and both women wear head scarves.
They ended up being fingerprinted and photographed, then held in a room at the U.S. border for about six hours, while their car, cellphones and belongings were searched.
At about 1 a.m., they were told to return to Canada.
Her family was denied entry to the U.S. in May 2003 when they were trying to attend an Islamic conference in Washington, D.C. Hudda was so upset by that incident she vowed never to attempt to go to the U.S. again, but thought attitudes might have eased more than a decade later.
To her dismay, she found the fears that haunted the United States after the 9/11 terror attack persist.
“This many years later and still it’s the same thing, we’re being treated like criminals,” Hudda said. “After all these years, they’ve not changed. It just boggles my mind.”
“It’s not justified,” she said. “It was like we had no rights, being on that line between the U.S. and Canada.”
She is a native-born Canadian, while her mother Sabira, 46, was born in Kenya but is a Canadian citizen who has lived in Kitchener for 25 years. Mother and daughter both had their passports with them for the trip to the U.S. Her husband had his Tanzanian passport, with a 10-year open visa to visit the United States, as well as his permanent resident’s card allowing him to stay in Canada.
“None of us have a criminal record or anything like that,” she said.
The whole incident was humiliating, especially because it unfolded in full view of hundreds of other travellers, she said.
Rather than simply being told to pull over, out of the line of vehicles at the border crossing, the border guard asked for the van’s keys and placed spikes behind the rear wheels so the van couldn’t be reversed without puncturing the tires.
Then three other officers came and asked them to leave all their belongings, including purses, wallets and cellphones, in the van and accompany them to a nearby office.
“We had to walk in front of all the cars in the line, probably hundreds of people who are thinking, ‘Oh, they must have done something.’
“That was just really degrading,” Hudda said.
Her mother was questioned about her frequent trips and how she had the money to pay for those trips. “We used to take groups on religious pilgrimages to different shrines,” Hudda explained.
After a few hours, they asked if they could get a drink of water from their van, and returned to the vehicle with an escort to discover it had been thoroughly searched.
“They turned our car inside out,” she said. “Everything was a mess. There were papers everywhere. They went through our wallets, our phones.”
Part of what infuriated her, she said, was that they were never given a reason for their treatment. “You should be given a reason. There should be a concrete reason.”
When she asked the border guards why they were being denied entry, they told her to contact the U.S. Consulate in Toronto. When she called the consulate, she was told it had nothing to do with border controls and had no information on why she was denied entry.
She suspects they were turned back at the border because her father, Shafiq Hudda, is an imam at the Islamic Humanitarian Service, a registered charity based in Kitchener that runs a Muslim community centre and drop-in centre. Her father has never been allowed to enter the U.S. since being refused entry in 2003.
Sabira Hudda, however, visited the U.S. a number of times without incident since 2003, and Mehdiya Hudda’s husband Hussein Walji, 28 — the only non-Canadian on the April excursion — was able to enter the U.S. on Friday with the amateur soccer team he belongs to on their way to attend a tournament in Pennsylvania.
In an email, U.S. Customs spokesperson Richard Misztal said he couldn’t comment on the specifics of any case, but said anyone hoping to enter the United States bears “the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States. In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome ALL grounds of inadmissibility.”
In 2013, customs and border agents stopped more than 132,000 “inadmissible aliens” from entering the U.S., Misztal wrote. “Inadmissibility grounds included immigration violations, criminal and national security-related reasons,” he explained.
Anyone found inadmissible can apply for the inadmissibility ruling to be waived. But “the waiver application process can be lengthy and there is a cost per application regardless of the decision on the application.”
Source: The Record