Harassment at US-Canada borders

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

A Correspondent in Toronto

Dhu al-Qa'dah 23, 1417 1997-04-01

Occupied Arab World

by A Correspondent in Toronto (Occupied Arab World, Crescent International Vol. 26, No. 3, Dhu al-Qa'dah, 1417)

Travellers from Canada to the US have frequently encountered hostility and aggressive behaviour from US customs and immigration officials at the various land border crossing points. In recent months, this has escalated dramatically. Legal residents of Canada have been accused of entering the US ‘illegally’ or planning to settle there and refused entry.

While US customs and immigration officials are not the most polite people in the world -- their arrogance is legendary -- this vicious campaign has escalated since last Christmas. The Crescent International newsmagazine in Toronto has obtained records of scores of people, all long-time legal residents of Canada and only wishing to enter the US to visit relatives or friends, who have been rudely turned back. Those travelling in a car have had their vehicles confiscated under the same false allegations.

In several instances, even Canadian citizens have been denied entry although according to agreement between the two, Canadian and US citizens can enter each other’s country for short visits without visa requirements. Some visitors irked by accusations said they were handcuffed by US officials, thrown to the ground and threatened with lock-up. In a few cases, even female relatives have been threatened and abused.

In the past, Canadian citizens have not faced such intense hostility from the Americans. Is the recent campaign part of a new policy to harass people and to show that America is the boss?

Legal experts believe that the current policy has been spurred by several recent developments. In April, a new US immigration law comes into force which gives vast new powers to officers of the immigration and naturalisation services (INS) to arrest and deport illegal aliens. Already INS officials have used, and abused, this law. Many legal residents of the US have been arrested and ordered expelled although some have challenged their deportation in a US court.

The other factor behind the current aggressive policy is that the US government has slashed funding for many departments. Each department has been told to generate its own revenues. The cowboys at the INS and the US justice department under whose jurisdiction the customs officials operate, have resorted to slapping a ban on the entry of people. These travellers, if they want to enter the US, have to fight it out in a US court. This generates revenues for American immigration lawyers, not the most polite or honest breed.

Travellers whose vehicles have been confiscated can appeal against the decision. Even if they get their vehicle back, they must pay towing and storage charges. It could take from two to three months before a vehicle is finally handed over to the owner. The charges could add up. If a vehicle is confiscated, it is auctioned off, bringing money into the department’s coffers. On average about 10 cars are being confiscated daily at each border crossing with Ontario province alone.

This is nothing short of robbery but then Americans have been robbing other people all their lives. Their government does it globally; their departments have started doing it to ordinary citizens of other countries living across the border.

Another factor adding to the rude behaviour is that most US customs and immigration officials are not well educated. Most have grade 10 or lower qualifications. They do not understand many fine points of the law but since they are given vast powers, they are prone to abuse them. It is like giving a monkey a loaded gun. The chances of someone getting shot and seriously injured are immense.

These illiterate power maniacs are allowed vast powers. They are told that if they suspect someone, they can deny them entry and/or confiscate their vehicle. There is no need to prove a person’s wrongdoing. These officials are also told that if a person is unhappy with a decision against him/her, they can appeal it in a US court. Of course, getting a hearing in a US court costs time and money and causes unnecessary headaches.

There is indeed a simple solution to all this. People can stop travelling to the US altogether but many people have relatives and friends there and it is often difficult to avoid going there for a visit.

Life will get a lot more difficult for legal residents of Canada whether they are permanent residents or Canadian citizens. There is also an element of racism involved. People with foreign sounding names are especially singled out; Muslims are the worst off.

After all, Muslims are the new enemy. For the racist, gun-toting INS and customs officials, they have found a new group to hate and harass. Welcome to the real America, the ‘land of the free’ but where freedom is at a premium.

Muslimedia - April 1-15, 1997

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