EmiratesLover From Malta, joined Dec 2000, 341 posts, RR: 0 Posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2650 times:
I would like people to read about the harrowing experience my parents experienced a few weeks back when they flew to the United States.They had a valid passport and a valid visa that they had used to travel to the United States previously as well, but despite this they were arrested, humiliated and deported.This article has been written by myself but is based entirely on my parents testimony.
Nightmare At Philadelphia
I am a mother of two, aged 55 and a General Practitioner.My
husband is a Professor of Medicine aged 63.My son studies at
the University of Malta.
We had, for a long while been planning a vacation to the United
States to visit our daughter who works as a doctor in Philadelphia.We had
been told repeatedly by her of the astonishing beauty of that part of the world
during this time of the year, and she was all but insistent on not taking no for
an answer.Understandably, therefore our trip to the US that we were planning
was accompanied by a deep sense of anticipation.
Our happiness was short-lived in September of this year,a tragedy
of horrifying magnitude befell the United States, which had deep reverberations
around the world and which shocked billions the world over, including our-
selves.That we had been to the US repeatedly in the past few years and partook
of the friendliness and courtesy of the people there only served to intensify the
sense of sorrow that we felt.Those of our acquaintances who had our best inter-
ests at heart spared no effort in convincing us of the necessity to abandon our
plans, but to no avail.We were intent on visiting our daughter in America and
that was that.After all, our presence there may have put us in a position to offer
our condolences and share the pain of a nation struck by unspeakable tragedy.
Moreover, were we to abandon America at this time of need, we would not
only be eschewing our duty to our American friends, but we would, in a sense
be achieving the very goals that the heartless terrorists had set for themselves.
The nation that valued liberty, freedom and human dignity, we reasoned, was
not capable of mistreating foreigners like us whose intentions were good.
It was with this sense of duty and determination that we set for
the US on the 21'st of September from Malta.We checked in early in the
morning on our flight to Heathrow, with the immigration officials at Malta
International Airport duly inspecting and approving our visas.It is relevant to
note at this point that I had visited the United States on a previous visa in 1997.
Two years later, I had, together with my husband and son applied for another
visa which was to be valid until 2004, and which I had used on three separate
occasions to visit the US, with absolutely no untoward incident whatsoever.
It was with this very visa, supposedly valid until 2004 that I checked in : it
must also be mentioned that had the visa been wanting in any respect, the
immigration regulations would have barred the Maltese authorities from
even leaving the island.We flew to London's Heathrow airport, where we
had to stay for six hours in transit.Here too, the British immigration au-
thorities duly inspected and approved our American visas, which enabled us
to board the British Airways jet to Philadelphia.
After a seven hour journey from London, we arrived at
the immigration in Philadelphia's International Airport.We were told that
unnamed officers wished to speak to us, and that we had to proceed
elsewhere.An immigration officer bombarded us with questions, both
routine as well as unusual, pertaining to our identity, background, and
past histories.The kept us waiting, then ushered us to the FBI office,
where we were politely asked a few questions.The next thing we knew,
the Immigration officer who suddenly appeared in the office bluntly told
my husband, a dermatologist of thirty odd years experience, with no
criminal record whatsoever in his sixty-three years, that he was, in their
eyes, a ``threat to the security of the United States'', and that his name had
come up in `` the computer list of people who are connected to terror
groups''.Finally we were told, despite the fact that we had travelled to the US
on more than one occasion with the same passport visa, we lacked the proper
visa to enter US territory, and consequently, were to be treated as illegal
immigrants.Before we had time to fully come to terms with the ludicrous
nature of this assertion, we were told that we would be deported immediately
after having spent the night in a detention centre.
My prime desire in visiting the US was to see my
daughter, which is why I requested an audience, however shortlived.This
simple desire was summarily rejected.My hands were handcuffed, and I saw
my husband's feet and legs being bound with heavy chains that reminded me of
films I used to watch depicting the horrors of slavery meted out to African
slaves.Prior to being sent to the detention centre, I was stripped of my personal
belongings, including jewellery, and money.Only the clothes I was wearing
were left.Being a diabetic and hypertensive, I asked them if I could take some
eatables from my purse which would prevent me from developing hypogly-
caemia at this time of stress. This too was callously refused.All I was told was
that I was to be fed at the detention centre, which, as I found later was not the
At the Detention Centre, during the course of interro-
gation, we were stripped of our last vestiges of dignity.My husband was under
stress, and had to visit the toilet on more that one occasion, to which the
officers present mockingly told themselves that he must be up to something
while in the toilet.I was separated from my husband at this point, and taken to a
cell with two other ladies whose demeanour suggested to me that they may
have been common criminals.The cell was utterly filthy, stinking with no
toilet facilities save for a water closet in the corner ( perish the thought of
privacy ! ).We had a steel plank for a bed, with no mattresses or pillows.
Having just crossed the Atlantic, it was tantamount to nothing less than sleep
deprivation in that cold, clammy cell.
I had not eaten for several hours - the unholy alliance
of stress, sleep and food and water deprivation had taken it's toll and I was
beginning to feel the symptoms of hypoglycaemia - dizziness, nausea,
shivering, palpitations and most of all, a deep sense of impending doom.I
asked a passing officer for a nurse - this request was denied repeatedly - the
only time this request was fulfilled was at a point when I was feeling
perilously close to altogether losing my consciousness.
The nurse who attended to me in her clinic was a won-
derful person - she took my blood pressure, gave me an aspirin and reassured
me in a way that no medication could have.Her warmth and demeanour was
the pole opposite of what I had experience until now, to the extent that I burst
into tears - a reflection of those in her own eyes, for the innocent deaths in
New York, while mine were a reflection of both the tragedy as well as our
own misfortunes. I was later returned to my cell.
The next morning, I was taken to the main entrance of
the detention centre, where I saw my husband ( handcuffs and footchains and
all ) being handled by the Detention Officers.Despite his slight build, he had
been burdened with chains so heavy that he could scarcely walk.We were
transported to the Airport once more in a Police vehicle and put in a tiny
cell together that was locked with no windows or ventilation.The only toilet
facilities were a tiny water closet in the corner ( again no question of privacy).
We beseeched the officers for food, pointing out that the last time that we had
eaten was when we were on the plane - this was refused repeatedly.Stuck as we
were in that claustrophobic cell for close to ten hours, all we could do was
pray for the British Airways plane to arrive sooner rather than later.We
realized that having travelled from afar to see our daughter, we would be dis-
appointed, we literally went on our knees to ask for just one audience,even
a brief one, but this too was refused.Finally, one hour prior to our departure,
we were given permission to speak to our daughter on the phone, but with the
proviso that we could speak only in English, that we had a mere five minutes
( fancy crossing the Atlantic for five minutes of a conversation with your loved
one - we might as well have stayed home).Also privacy was not on the agenda -
our conversation with our daughter was to be overheard by the officers in
charge. Within the limits of these conditions, we were taken to a phone were
we did our utmost to reassure our daughter that no harm had befallen us and
that we were prepared to leave voluntarily rather than be deported.We told
her that we were treated well even though we had not even been allowed a
drink of water by our captors.We tried to put her distraught nerves at rest,
our own self-obvious distress reflected, rather than mitigated by hers.During
the course of this pathetic half-excuse of a conversation that we were per-
mitted, the officer monitering our call abruptly cut off the line, leaving us
in a states of acute disappointment.
Immediately after the phone call was terminated, a
bundle of nerves that I was, only too mindful of my plummetting blood glucose
( my diabetes didnt exactly make this ordeal particularly easy) , I beseeched the
officer in charge for some food.He reluctantly handed us a sandwich each, but
only after having kept us waiting for close to an hour.
Close to ten hours after having been penned up in
that cell, we were released, and handed our belongings back.We were taken to
a room where the officers slowly handed back our belongings.We were given
our bags, my jewellery and my money back.It was at this point that I dis-
covered that something was wrong.During my packing of my belongings,
I distinctly remember packing in an envelope $ 9600.I briefly and hastily
counted the $100 notes that I was handed to by the officer, only to find
88 rather than 96.I reported this to the officer promptly, who turned around
and made a few, sharp enquiries.He said `` sorry ma'am I think you have made
a mistake - nobody has taken your money''.Desperate as I was to bring this
hellish ordeal to an end, I obliged and signed a document that was to certify
that my belongings had all been returned.
Later, I counted the $ 100 dollar notes repeatedly,
only to find to my bemusement and astonishment that there were indeed only
$ 8800, and not the $ 9600 that I was so certain I had packed. I was intent on
vindicating myself, so I returned to the officer whom I had spoken to earlier.
He responded to my pleas with a grin that could only have been described as
being perverse in it's indifference - he said ``how can we be sure you are not
lying, for all we know you may be hiding it on your person.Do you think we
are thieves? Besides, you have already signed the document that affirms we
returned all your belongings.'' The price for reporting this loss eventually
turned out to be a strip search - a female officer was summoned to undress
me in a small room - whether this was done to reassure me or them is
something I have yet to figure out.
My husband and I were ushered to the waiting
lounge of the airport in Philadelphia, and were denied even the chance to
check in with the rest of the passengers.Instead we were hauled into the
departures lounge bereft of our boarding passes.When I rose to tell the
official that we were frequent fliers with British Airways and wished to earn
miles, all we were told was `` we don't care about your air miles.' By the time
we boarded the plane, the interior of the British Airways aircraft seemed
like a palace !
The harrowing experience that I have narrated per
se is not the only issue weighing down on our consciences.The fact of the
matter is that my husband and I were at the receiving end of treatment that the
US justice system reserves almost exclusively for the likes of criminals and
illegal immigrants.And what was our crime, may I ask. We are both middle
aged citizens who have spent the bulk of our lives serving humanity through
the avenues of our profession.We both lack criminal records.We scarcely
fit the stereotype associated with criminals.Even the scapegoat we were
provided for this treatment was scarcely convincing - we both have valid ]
visas which were issued by the American Embassy in Malta valid until
the December of 2004 which we had used twice, ( thrice in the case of my-
self) to enter the United States territory, through perfectly legitimate
avenues, and had not committed any offence whatsoever while on US soil.
Moreover, the accusation levelled against my husband and myself, that we
were threats to the security of the US simply because our names had app-
eared on a computer list of suspected terrorists richly deserves the con-
tempt it receives from our part, particularly when brought into perspective
with our absence of a criminal record.To vindicate our position even
further, I would like to point out that I visited the American embassy the
day after my arrival in Malta, only to be told in no uncertain terms that
the visa which we had been issued two years earlier was perfectly valid,
and to quote the Councillor General himself, he could see no reason for
what had just happened.Why, oh why, were we treated the way that we
The only logical explanation I can arrive at, or
shall I say compelled to arrive at, therefore, is that the stuggle against terror
in the world's most powerful nation, despite the plethora of means at it's
disposal, has degenerated into a witchhunt so bizarre that any individual,
despite his or her background, personality and personal opinions can be
denigrated, indeed defined as nothing more than a security risk simply at
the whims of officials.This is unfortunate not only because of the scars
it leaves in the hearts and minds of people like myself, but also this is
precisely the kind of behaviour that one would wish would die a natural
death in the aftermath of the terrible tragedy that has recently befallen
the United States.Needless to say, I have a right to expect better than this.
Singapore 777 From Australia, joined May 1999, 1032 posts, RR: 3
Reply 1, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 22 hours ago) and read 2420 times:
I'm really sorry to hear of your parents' experiences.
While I must admit I think the above was because of the heightened awareness of security around the United States, I would not have tolerated the above treatment. I would not have been so patient with the security staff and to let this matter rest after being deported from a paid-for journey across the Atlantic. Why don't you write to the US embassy in Malta and see how they could assist you?
Jsmith From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 3, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 12 hours ago) and read 2313 times:
What is it with PHL?
As an Australian University student travelling through PHL in early 1997 (ie way before Sept 11), I arrived on what was probably the same flight as your parents - the daily BA service from LHR.
We were the only international flight to be processed and I cannot ever remember being asked so many questions by immigration staff. I also had all my bags searched and my camera bag was opened and the lens' removed and inspected. I was beginning to get worried at all the attention I was receiving. I was only going to visit a friend - an American friend - in Florida for a week before heading to Vancouver.
I was on a round the world ticket and had been flying frequently in the few months leading up to my experience at PHL, and never received this much attention before.
I was even travelling on a UK passport. Had I had my Australian passport, heaven knows what kind of confusion that would have caused.....no I am not from Austria.
Having said that, the last time I entered the US, I arrived directly to Orlando and immigration there were nothing but friendly and courteous and I was not searched.
People's first impression of a country come from the immigration and customs officials at our major airports. It never ceases to amaze me how people lacking in any kind of personality or basic people skills are employed in these positions. This goes not just for the US, but I have seen and heard some pretty rude Australian immigration officials as well.
DarnellJ From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 4, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 5 hours ago) and read 2268 times:
Unfortunately, as aliens seeking to enter the United States, your parents give implied consent to suspend essentially all their rights at the port of entry. This implied consent is provided as part of the visa application process.
The Government of the United States (and correspondingly its agents, the INS) reserves the right to deny entry to all aliens for any reason they choose. They are also not required to justify their reasons if it falls under the jurisdiction of national security.
I do not wish to condone the actions of the INS at Philadelphia, but they were well within their rights to do this to your parents. That is the risk everyone takes with international travel. However, your parents will be eligible to try to re-enter the United States after 10 years if they are able to prove that they are not involved with any subversive groups.
Dragogoalie From Australia, joined Oct 2001, 1220 posts, RR: 6
Reply 5, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 4 days 4 hours ago) and read 2249 times:
Thats Bull that happened to them. Reguardless of what country people are from, supposedly in the US everyone is innocent until proven guitly, but your parents should have been treated so much better than that. I'm truely sorry that a couple idiots who now think they are rulers of the world because they wear a badge ruined your parents opinion of the united states.
EmiratesLover From Malta, joined Dec 2000, 341 posts, RR: 0
Reply 6, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 23 hours ago) and read 2245 times:
I certainly can understand the need for greater security at American airports - in fact considering the horrific events that occurred over there I would be the first one to emphasize the necessity of greater vigilance, particularly considering the fact that my parents too were part of the travelling public.If my parents were deemed to be undesirables for whatever reason, then I think that they had a right, particularly at times of heightened security, to deport them if they wished.But what I would like to say that the fact that my parents were deported per se never upset me ; in fact when I heard that they were coming back by my sister, I was not disturbed at all... if fact, I was almost amused, preparing to tell them something like ``I told you so''.
But what disturbed me when they came back was when they told me how they were treated..... handcuffed, foot chains on my father ( they are in their fifties and sixties) and put in a filthy cell with criminals, deprived of food and water and sanitation and a chance to meet my sister, and eight hundred dollars stolen, all towards people with no criminal record whatsoever.As far as I am concerned, the INS can deport people for whatever reasons... but mistreated them when they have not committed any crime.... that is nothing less than a full fledged human rights violation.
DarnellJ From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 7, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 21 hours ago) and read 2229 times:
Standard operating procedure requires that all prisoners, which is what your parents were after it was determined that they were attempting to enter the country illegally, are restrained in the interest of officer safety and the safety of their fellow prisoners.
As they were illegally in the country, they could not be granted audience with anyone who was physically present in the United States (your sister), hence that was denied to them.
The deprivation of food, water and sanitation is inexcusable. I urge you to have your sister follow up that aspect with the INS Philadelphia bureau chief, or with the local agency that contracts prisoner housing facility to the INS. As far as the theft of the money is concerned, your mother should not have signed that all personal belongings were returned to her if she had suspected anything missing. However, this too should be brought to the notice of the INS officials.
Ctbarnes From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 3491 posts, RR: 47
Reply 8, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 17 hours ago) and read 2193 times:
In addition, your parents (I'm assuming they are Maltese citizens), ought lodge an official complaint with the Maltese Government charging mistreatment of two of their nationals. They might try their local MP, or contact someone with the Foreign Ministry.
I also echo the suggestion above that your sister lodge a complaint with the INS in Phiadelphia.
I too can understand the need for vigilence in the wake of the terrorist attacks, but what happened to your parents was simply outrageous, and should not go unaccounted for.
The customer isn't a moron, she is your wife -David Ogilvy
777236ER From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 9, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 14 hours ago) and read 2184 times:
Let's look at it the other way around. If two American citizens were treated like this is Malta, a diplomatic incident would most likely errupt, ending most likely in sanctions on Malta. The ironic thing is, there's nothing your parents can do. If they tell the Maltese government, they won't do much and might lodge a small complaint with the US government which wouldn't go anywhere. A violation of human rights took place, and your parents humanity was taken away. But wait, isn't the war against terrorism supposed to SAVE humanity?
Iainhol From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 10, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 10 hours ago) and read 2172 times:
I hate to say it but I highly doubt the picked on your parents, they felt your parents where a threat to the United States, even thought it was more then likely confusion on the United States of America's side. However in sensative times like this we do have to be sympathetic to the concerns of a nation that was attacked in the manner the United States was 2 months ago.
Mandala499 From Indonesia, joined Aug 2001, 7515 posts, RR: 76
Reply 11, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 3 days 1 hour ago) and read 2144 times:
Sympathetic to the suffering of US, but very unsympathetic of the treatment your parents suffered. They probably used the "you're a threat to national security" argument to deny your parents' right of attorney, review etc, because they don't want to get sued if it was found out that they breached INS guidelines.
If you wanna take it up, sue them... just make sure you get a good lawyer... write to the US Secretary of State about the complaint or the Director-General of INS... They're debating about separating Immigration and Border Controls (Passport control) at the moment. Your complaint would also be very useful to them...
When losing situational awareness, pray Cumulus Granitus isn't nearby !
J-bird From Canada, joined Feb 2001, 111 posts, RR: 0
Reply 12, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 1 day 16 hours ago) and read 2098 times:
First - how did your parents get on the list? That requires further investigation and the root of this problem lies there. To echo someone above - who do they donate to or associate with? You know the old adage - you are judged by the company you keep. No country has the legal obligation to let nationals of another country enter. Entry can be denied for seemingly bizarre reasons, with little recourse. Keeping the wrong company or even having the wrong political views is enough.
Second - your parent's treatment at INS hands was clearly disgraceful. The problem lies in the lack of accountability of immigration officers throughout the world (this is not endemic to the U.S.). I have always found INS courteous and pleasant, but other posts are correct - follow up with officials channels regarding the alleged treatment.
Dragogoalie From Australia, joined Oct 2001, 1220 posts, RR: 6
Reply 13, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 1 day 2 hours ago) and read 2064 times:
About suing them, I'd be careful about that because I heard in one of my classes in high school ( I think it was the law class I took) that you have to have permission of the government to sue the government...doesn't make a whole lot of sense. Check into that though, I might not be correct.
Carmy From Singapore, joined Oct 2001, 627 posts, RR: 0
Reply 14, posted (14 years 5 months 3 weeks 5 hours ago) and read 2021 times:
EmiratesLover: I'd say just go to the American Embassy and lodge a complaint. If not, bring the matter up to your MP or your country's Ministry for Foreign Affairs. Write to your local newspaper to ensure that this shameful affair is well publicised. I'm not American or anywhere remotely related to one, but no one should be treated the way your parents were treated. Absolutely disgraceful.
J-Bird: In many Asian cultures, many people have the same first and last name. For example, in Korea, almost everyone's family name is either Kim or Lim. As a result, you probably have a hundred thousand people sharing the same name as you. Same theory applies in many countries throughout Asia. In this case, I suspect it was just someone else who shared the same name as EmiratesLover's parents. And because of these cultural differences, the immigration officers simply thought the two were the same person when there possibly are another million people sharing the exact same name all over the region where EmiratesLover comes from.
And Dragogoalie is right. I don't know about American law, but under British common law, an individual cannot bring a lawsuit against the government of a foreign country. You could sue the immigration officers, but that, if I remember my law classes correctly, will have to be done in the US. And no good would come out of it 'cos the INS officers are probably just donkeys who think they own the world. Won't get alot of compensation out of them as well, if you're considering any sort of legal action.
Saeta From Ecuador, joined Jun 2001, 14 posts, RR: 0
Reply 15, posted (14 years 5 months 2 weeks 3 days 6 hours ago) and read 1981 times:
As an American, and also someone that grew up in Philly, I am very embarassed and sad to know what happened during your travels to my city. My father was a physican also in PHL. I think that immigration went a little overboard. I work as a flight attendant for an airline, with most of my flights to South America. It seems that almost every other flight someone from Colombia is being deported from New York after immigration has found out that the passanger overstayed their stay on a previous entry, or as is often the case, the person will be living illegally in the USA and they will mail their Colombian passport back home and pay someone off to have their passport backdated so it appears that they had left the USA before their time limit was up. US immigration has seen it all, and they usually do a good job in catching people that intent to come here to live illegally.
Although this was not the case with your family. Just the other day their was a man on my flight coming from Ecuador, and they sent him back to South America on the next flight because immigration knew that his wife and kids were already in New York living without papers. How immigration knew, I will never know, but they are sneaky,smart, and they know more about you even before you land in the USA
J-bird From Canada, joined Feb 2001, 111 posts, RR: 0
Reply 16, posted (14 years 5 months 2 weeks 2 days 22 hours ago) and read 1978 times:
That's a good point on the names. I didn't get the sense that there might have been name confusion from reading the original post, but certainly that could have been a causation of the incident.
However, I also have a friend who works for Customs & Immigration Canada and in the brief amount he has described to me about their intelligence gathering - well, let's just say that the system is rather more sophisticated than merely confusing names (ie: cross-matching birth, physical and travel history data). Nonetheless, I doubt it would be the first time that a simple name mistake caused such a reaction. If that was the case here, it makes the incident even worse, because the poor people were entirely lacking in culpability. Hopefully, this is rare.
CV990 From , joined Dec 1969, posts, RR:
Reply 17, posted (14 years 5 months 2 weeks 2 days 20 hours ago) and read 1974 times:
I think that the fact that your parents have an "arab" name did infact played against them, after the WTC tragedy I'm sure the US authorities are checking out much closer those that are called "dangerous people" for USA, although your family live in Malta are they citizens of Malta? Do they have any arab background? That could be a problem from 11 Sep. on! I've visited a few times USA too and I remember at least in one ocasion that a girl had a passport with visas from Libya and Syria and the US Customs just got her in a special room so she could explain why she had those visas! In my last trip to USA I was ready to fly from Charlotte to St. Louis and the guy from USAir that was checking my bagage wasn't quite confident by our aspect ( we're portuguese, mediterranean country, quite brown due to the sun, etc. etc ) and re-checked our bagagge. That's the way they work and I'm sure that nothing will be like used to be in USA now! It was sad for them but now we'll see more and more inocent people beeing connected with terrorism, special people from Arab countries or with arab background.
Redngold From United States of America, joined Mar 2000, 6907 posts, RR: 40
Reply 18, posted (14 years 5 months 2 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 1936 times:
Unfortunately, the American's right to be "innocent until proven guilty" does not apply to visiting citizens of a foreign country. Although many foreign citizens are afforded a jury trial here in the U.S., they can still be deported on "probable cause," which is much less than "preponderance of evidence" or "beyond a reasonable doubt" as is required for sentence of U.S. citizens.
I abhor the conditions to which your parents were subjected, especially the blatant, malicious, and life-threatening disregard for your mother's diabetic condition. Those who are responsible for the care of prisoners at PHL's INS should be fired.
Jeffrey1970 From United States of America, joined Apr 2001, 1407 posts, RR: 11
Reply 19, posted (14 years 5 months 2 weeks 7 hours ago) and read 1933 times:
I think what people do not realize is when customs turns you away, that is not a criminal offense. They reserve the right to say "yes" or "no" to a foreigner entering the country. I am curious as to what charitable organizations your parents have given money too.
However I am so sorry for the way your parents were treated in the jail. They did not deserve that.