(Photo: On Islam)
(Photo: On Islam)

Toronto, 15 Jumadil Awwal 1436/5 March 2015 (MINA) – A Canadian Muslim family’s trip to Disney World in the US has turned into a nightmare, after US customs stopped the family, paraded them in public and sent them home without a charge.

“My kids were so excited, and they were counting down the days for the trip,” Dr Firas Al-Rawi, who is a medical doctor at Toronto General Hospital and lives in Ontario’s city of Mississauga, told Toronto Star, On Islam quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting.

Problems started when Al-Rawi, 48-year-old Iraqi who migrated to Canada with his family in 2006, booked the Family Day holiday trip in early December so his wife and children could join him at a professional conference in Orlando that week.

Arriving last February 13 at Pearson International Airport, the family was fingerprinted and photographed at the check-in counter, Al-Rawi said.

They were asked to go for a secondary inspection as Al-Rawi was questioned about the purpose of his visit, his employment and his family trips in 2014 to Qatar and Dubai. “We didn’t really mind if it was a random check, given the typical screening with what’s happening with ISIL (the terrorist Islamic State group). We had nothing to hide,” he said.

“But we were not prepared for the rest of it. We were stressed, not knowing what was going on.”

Moreover, the family’s electronics, one iPhone, two MacBooks and three iPads, were confiscated, and they were ordered to provide passwords so officials could unlock the devices.

“We have uncovered photos we took in our private lives in there,” Ahmed, Al-Rawi’s wife, said of the digital family photos on the devices, where she and her daughter, Zainab, appeared without their headscarves.

After lengthy inspection, a customs supervisor said they were being denied entry to the US and asked them to sign papers to declare they were withdrawing their applications for admission

Al-Rawi refused and asked for a reason.

“He said, ‘You are not going to your trip because we have doubts if you are going to return to Canada after the trip,’” said Al-Rawi, who spent more than five years working to earn an Ontario medical licence and restart his stalled practice in Canada.

More Problems

The Al-Rawis became part of the 330 or more travellers a day who are refused entry to the United States under the US Immigration and Nationality Act, which gives border officials the right to refuse admission of non-Americans — including Canadian citizens.

Refusing to comment on Al-Rawis family dilemma, United States Customs and Border Protection said it processes 992,000 admission applications to the US, refuses 366 persons as inadmissible and arrests 22 wanted criminals at the ports of entry.

“Applicants for admission bear the burden of proof to establish that they are clearly eligible to enter the United States,” said Jennifer Evanitsky, a spokesperson for the USCBP.

“In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”

Evanitsky added that banned travellers may apply for a temporary waiver, but “the process can be lengthy and there is a cost per application regardless of the decision.”

Denying the family their vacation in Disney was not the only problem facing them. According to their lawyer, Khalid Elgazzar, vice chair of the National Council of Canadian Muslims, being barred from entry to the US can affect a person’s ability to fulfill work obligations, not to mention the stigma that’s created among colleagues and friends.

“There is a sense that these secondary screenings are not random,” said Elgazzar.

“Canadians do not have any rights in the U.S. There is no access to information. There’s no redress mechanism and little you can do.”

According to the National Council of Canadian Muslims, 14 per cent of the 182 human rights complaints it received between 2011 and 2013 involved travel restrictions to the US. The council plans to do a survey investigating the Muslim community’s experience with travel and mobility, as well as a spring forum to address the impact of the post-9/11 period on civil liberties. (T/P011/R04)

Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)