As she sat in an in any other case empty interrogation room face-to-face with a U.S. border agent, Shirin Fahimi discovered herself in a situation she’d solely ever seen within the motion pictures.
A lengthy desk separated her from the officer. On the ceiling have been 4 screens. Her coronary heart was beating quick.
“Are you Muslim?” Fahimi recalled the agent asking her.
“That was a shocking question for me,” she informed CBC News. “I don’t know if any other Canadian at the border is being asked this question of what do you believe.”
Fahimi, a 31-year-old Toronto-area artist, was born in Iran. Over the years, she said she’s confronted additional questioning in trade for the liberty to journey the United States.
But on Feb. 4, shortly after she checked in at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport, Fahimi was led to a room the place she said she was peppered one-on-one with questions she by no means imagined she would face as a Canadian citizen.
What was her place on the Iranian authorities, why did she transfer to Canada and why was her husband’s identify so lengthy have been among the questions.
‘Who is Canadian now?’
The interrogation lasted about 45 minutes and ended with Fahimi in tears. Not solely was she denied journey to San Francisco for a scheduled efficiency, she was additionally left questioning if the Canadian citizenship she’d waited so lengthy for was by some means price much less due to the place she was born.
“Who is Canadian now?” Fahimi said. “You question your belonging.”
Fahimi is not alone. CBC News has interviewed 5 different Iranian-born Canadian residents who have been denied entry even after U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) admitted that officers at its Seattle area workplace have been wrongly detaining Iranian-born travellers amid escalating U.S.-Iran tensions following the killing of Iranian basic Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3.
Two of these folks said they’d served within the Iranian army earlier than transferring to Canada — which is obligatory in Iran.
The circumstances have some questioning if the refusals are a part of a broader technique focusing on Iranian-born travellers.
During the Jan. Four weekend, up to 200 travellers of Iranian descent travelling from British Columbia have been reportedly detained and questioned for a number of hours on the Peace Arch border crossing in Washington state.
Social media posts that CBP is detaining Iranian-Americans and refusing their entry into the U.S. due to their nation of origin are false. Reports that DHS/CBP has issued a associated directive are additionally false.
The company denied any such directive got here from the highest, with CBP performing commissioner Mark Morgan telling reporters the actions have been “not in line with our direction and so that was immediately corrected. And it was very unique to that one sector.”
The focusing on was said to have ended after Jan. 5, as tales of Iranian-born travellers who had been stopped on the border started coming to gentle, in accordance to a U.S. border officer, whose id CBC News withheld over considerations of repercussions from his employer.
On Jan. 31, Saman Zamanzadeh, 35, was heading to Orlando, Fla., for an engineering convention. A Canadian citizen since July 2018, he’d travelled to the U.S. quite a few occasions with out subject.
This time, at secondary screening, he was requested a couple of time — earlier than he grew to become a Canadian — when his utility for a customer’s visa was denied. That was across the time of U.S. President Donald Trump’s controversial journey ban that barred people from seven predominantly Muslim international locations from getting into the U.S.
At the time, Zamanzadeh cancelled his journey, deciding it may wait. His entry woes ended when he grew to become a Canadian citizen — solely to return once more in current weeks.
It was the identical for Ahmad Keshavarzian.
The 59-year-old development advisor and his spouse have been planning to journey to Orlando to see their daughter when he was stopped at Pearson airport. Keshavarzian, who grew to become a Canadian citizen in 2017, had confronted secondary screening earlier than, but had at all times been ready to cross the border after answering a couple of questions.
This time, after 20 minutes of interrogation, Keshavarzian was deemed inadmissible, and informed he didn’t have the required visa to cross the border. Canadian residents typically do not require visas to journey to the U.S. besides in very particular circumstances, in accordance to the U.S. Embassy’s web site.
‘No coverage’ to detain based mostly on nationality: CBP
The two Iranian-born Canadian residents who had served within the Iranian army informed CBC News they’d by no means earlier than undergone secondary screening till the killing of Soleimani. One was held up at a land crossing on the Champlain–St. Bernard de Lacolle crossing connecting Quebec and New York on Jan. 17; the opposite at Pearson airport on Jan. 20.
In an emailed assertion this week, U.S. Customs and Border Protection informed CBC News “there is no policy or rule that would permit CBP to target or detain individuals based on nationality alone.”
Why not make the Americans accountable for circumstances like this?– Immigration lawyer Len Saunders
CBP officers “are trained to enforce U.S. laws uniformly and fairly, and they do not discriminate based on religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation,” spokesperson Jason Givens said within the assertion.
The assertion went on to say people who current a legitimate Canadian passport will be processed for entry to the U.S. as Canadian residents but to exhibit that they’re admissible, it’s up to the applicant to “overcome all grounds of inadmissibility.”
When Fahimi was denied entry, she requested the border agent why she was out of the blue inadmissible regardless of having travelled to the U.S. so many occasions beforehand.
“Well, they made a mistake before,” she recalled the agent saying. “How could the border agency make a mistake that many times?”
Canadian authorities’s silence ‘disturbing’
For Zamanzadeh, the one recourse he sees is for the Canadian authorities to step in and ensure its residents aren’t being discriminated towards.
“I’m not a citizen of the U.S., and I can’t demand anything from their government, but I am a Canadian citizen who voted for this Liberal Party in this election, and one big reason is what was brought up by Prime Minister Trudeau: ‘A Canadian is a Canadian is a Canadian,'” Zamanzadeh said.
“This means a lot to us,” he said.
CBC News contacted each Global Affairs Canada and the Canada Border Services Agency this week to ask if the federal authorities is conscious of and anxious about circumstances of Iranian-born Canadians being interrogated or refused entry on the border. CBC News additionally requested if any motion is being taken to guarantee Canadians of Iranian origin will not be subjected to any unequal therapy.
Neither federal company supplied a response, referring any questions to the U.S.
For Len Saunders, an immigration lawyer in Blaine, Wash., the silence from the Canadian authorities is “disturbing.”
“They’re so willing to give the Americans this carte blanche autonomy on Canadian soil,” Saunders said. “They’ve allowed U.S. officers to … basically interrogate Canadians indefinitely at pre-flight clearances, to recommend charges if Canadians don’t co-operate with U.S. officers.”
“Why not make the Americans accountable for cases like this?”
Since tensions between the U.S. and Iran have ramped up, Saunders said he is obtained dozens of calls from Iranian-born Canadians who’ve been given no approach to resolve their circumstances.
“They’re told to go to the U.S. consulate to apply for a visa. And the second they go to the consulate, the consulate says you’re Canadian, you don’t need a visa. And so it becomes kind of a catch-22.”
“It’s profiling,” Saunders said.
“These people have not violated any immigration laws. These people have not had any criminal convictions or anything which stands out as grounds of inadmissibility. The only common factor — and I hate to say this — most of them are born in Iran.”
For now, Fahimi is not certain if she’s going to ever be ready journey to the U.S. utilizing her Canadian passport.
As she stared out of the practice window on her approach again house from Pearson, the skyline whizzing previous, she thought: “After everything my parents went through for us to have this freedom, this happens.”
“Do I belong here?”