Afghanistan-born Ontario doctor says he was questioned more than five hours at U.S. border
Barbara Simpson, Postmedia Network | February 28, 2017 1:07 AM ET
Handout/Sarnia Observer/Postmedia NetworkDr. Sardar Ahmad
SARNIA — A Sarnia family doctor who left his war-torn country says he saw the end of a hard-earned medical career flash before his eyes when he was detained by U.S. border agents and quizzed about his “tribe.”
Dr. Sardar Ahmad, who left Afghanistan on a prestigious Fulbright scholarship, said he was detained for more than five hours at the Blue Water Bridge, Canada’s second-busiest U.S. border crossing, for reasons the Canadian citizen still isn’t clear about three days later.
During his detainment Friday, Ahmad said U.S. border agents asked him what “tribe” he belonged to and the name of his “tribe chief,” whether he had seen “a lot of gunmen” growing up in Afghanistan and specific questions about the family he left behind there.
“It was frustrating for me because I was worried, I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” the 43-year-old doctor said Monday.
“You never know. They could put you in jail. You could lose your career – everything – all, overnight.”
Ahmad, who came to Canada in 2007, had been trying to cross the bridge to Michigan on Friday to visit the Nexus office.
I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to happen next.
A few days earlier, Ahmad said he’dreceived an email that his Nexus card — to expedite border crossings — had been revoked. He decided to go over on his lunch break Friday to visit the office in person.
As soon as he told the U.S. border agent his situation, Ahmad said he was pulled over, had his car keys taken from him and held for questioning for hours, all as eldeerly patients waited for him back at his clinic.
“I was telling (the U.S. border agents), ‘I need to call my clinic to at least cancel the patients,’ and they said, ‘No, you can’t touch the phone,’” Ahmad said. He noted a border agent eventually allowed him to call his clinic before he was eventually cleared — but declined — to enter the U.S. hours later.
In an email Monday, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesperson said the agency cannot discuss an individual’s processing due to privacy legislation, but the CBP is “committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all members of the trade and traveling public.”
Ahmad’s ordeal comes just weeks after a Moroccan-born Canadian citizen reported being questioned about her Muslim religion and her views on U.S. President Donald Trump at a U.S. border crossing in Quebec.
She was denied entry into the U.S.
Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump is expected to sign a new refugee and immigration travel order – one anticipated to follow in the same vein of his earlier effort to ban Syrian refugees, as well as citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries, from entering the U.S.
Federal judges blocked the travel ban Trump signed late last month, but a White House source has saidTrump plans to introduce a new ban with some “minor technical differences” but with “the same basic policy outcome.”
Several members of Sarnia-Lambton’s Muslim community have been outspoken about fears of travelling to the U.S. in light of the proposed travel ban.
Monday, Sarnia-Lambton MP Marilyn Gladu described Ahmad’s experience at the border as “unacceptable,” but she wasn’t surprised to learn of his story.
“It’s not the first I’ve heard of these issues,” she said. “We’ve been hearing in the House of Commons of these issues across Canada where people are being racially profiled when they go across the border.
“We’ve escalated this issue to the government.”
Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale has also been put on notice about the U.S. government’s revocation of some Nexus cards, Gladu noted.
On Feb. 8, Goodale announced that all Canadian permanent residents who had their Nexus cards revoked because of the Trump immigration ban have now had their cards reinstated, but Gladu said Monday Ahmad’s experience “suggests this wasn’t the case.”
Ahmad said he still has questions why his Nexus card was revoked, but now has no interest travelling to the U.S. — where he once lived.
Born in Afghanistan, Ahmad moved to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship through the U.S. Embassy in Kabul.
He eventually moved to Canada where he completed his medical residency in Petrolia a year ago.
He said Friday’s experience reminded him that he has “everything in Canada.”“I was telling (the U.S. border agents), ‘I don’t have to go here,’” he said. “‘I live in the most beautiful country in the world.’”