I cannot enter the US, because I am a Somali Muslim.
By Mohammed Ibrahim Shire
In the wake of 9/11, the Bush administration initiated sweeping security measures in a bid to curb potential terrorists. Although the phenomenon of religious/racial profiling is not new, 9/11 did exacerbate it. As a result, numerous Muslims have been wrongfully questioned intensely whilst some had their visas revoked or barred from entering the US indefinitely.
It was in mid-2009 when I booked my ticket to the United States in particularly Columbus, Ohio, with the primary motive to visit my broad network of long-lost relatives whom I have not seen for over two decades.
Invigorated with the thought that I would re-establish familial relations and examine their lifestyle in the US, I prepared my usual travel essentials and headed to the departure Gatwick airport. The checking procedure proved to be straightforward. I have heard of the ostensibly ‘security checks’ put in place to discern potential terrorists and innocent passengers whilst in reality it was a façade to investigate every single traveller who either had a Muslim-sounding name or belonged to a certain ethnicity.
I attempted to ignore the ordeal stories associated with these screenings, the countless innocent Muslim travellers I read about who had either their flights cancelled or delayed in order to undergo lengthy scrutiny to verify the validity of their travel objectives.
I was minutes away of boarding the plane whilst contemplating how I managed not to get harassed by the infamous security checks, considering the fact that I have a Muslim name and on top of that, my ethnicity is Somali. And then it happened – as I was seconds away of boarding the plane – I was recalled back to the counter. Confounded why I had to return all the way back to the my initial starting place whilst the aeroplane was minutes away of taking off, I complied.
Upon my arrival; a representative of Homeland Security explained to me with minimal words that I was not allowed to enter the States. Dumbfounded by the statement: I inquired why that is which she quickly retorted that I have to take that query up with the US Embassy in London. Knowing that I would not get much information from her, I left the airport.
To cut a long story short. I booked an appointment with the US Embassy in London, paid a hefty fee in order to get my query answered as they refused to do it over the phone and decided to attend my appointment the next day at the embassy. Though my question to why I was denied entry was side-tracked with the usual rhetoric of ‘We cannot disclose it’, I was instructed to apply for a non-immigrant visa on the spot whereby I would be put in administrative processing for up to 120 days. I calmly asked why I had to apply for a non-immigrant visa considering that I was perfectly eligible for the visa-waiver program (VWP) given the fact that I am a national of a country (Netherlands) that participates in the program, law-abiding citizen and have no criminal background whatsoever. And again, I was given the aforementioned rhetoric as the reply.
I co-operated with the request, applied for a non-immigrant visa and earnestly hoped that I would be cleared of this blatant profiling. The waiting game commenced – weeks turned in to months. Costly phone calls, after phone calls, emails after emails, the only reply I did manage to receive was a standard reply stating that I had to patiently await a ‘reply’.01
It was then in late 2009 that I had received a letter, stating that I was granted a visa and that I had to send in my passport. I complied. Weeks later, I received another letter mentioning that due new ‘evidence’, I was put in to another administrative processing cycle. No elucidation for this new ‘evidence’ was offered but in my mind, I knew that it coincided with the Nigerian underwear bomber episode and the level of security bumped up a notch once again at the cost of the thousands of innocent Muslim travellers, religiously profiled for the wrongdoing of one misguided criminal. Though I am a firm supporter of rigid security checks, however not at the cost of elongated security checks imposed on innocent individuals from a certain religious background.
In early 2012, roughly 2.5 years have passed commemorating the day I entered the dreaded ‘administrative processing’ cycle. I have received an appointment for a second interview a couple months ago, perhaps an after-effect of my countless emails demanding a definite answer to my prolonged ‘background check’. After attending the second interview, I received my definite reply. I was barred from entering the United States for reasons so ambiguous that that it screamed ‘we profiled you’ from underneath. I did not have the option to appeal but ironically did receive an invitation to resubmit a new non-immigrant visa application and re-experience the same lengthy ordeal. No, thank you.
Retrospectively, what is peculiar is how it took over 2 years for a simple background to be conducted. It leaves me wondering whether this protracted background research was done purposely in order for my case to be drawn out as much as possible or perhaps was unintentionally left on a pack of piles of cases only for it to be forgotten.
It was not long ago when President Barack Obama echoed in Cairo that “America is not and will never be at war with Islam.” Words that would signify an earnest attempt to reverse and repair the damage dispensed by the Bush administration, words of reconciliation and a new era. Unfortunately, it seems that US security agencies and embassies continue to be vigilant of Muslim-sounding names.