Syrian Permanent Resident of Canada Denied Entry to U.S. Despite Immigration Minister’s Assurance

The confusion surrounding U.S. President Donald Trump’s executive order banning travel to that country from citizens of seven countries continues, creating havoc at U.S. airports and disappointment at ports of entry on the Canadian border.

On Monday evening, a Syrian permanent resident of Canada was denied entry to the U.S., despite Canada’s Immigration Minister having stated just the day before that Canadian permanent residents would not be adversely affected by the order, which was signed on January 27.

Hicham Zinalabdin, who has held Canadian permanent resident status since arriving from the Middle East in 2012, estimates that he has visited the U.S. around 200 times in his lifetime. Zinalabdin states that he has entered legally on each occasion, and, until this week, he held a valid multiple-entry visitor visa for the U.S.

The 37 year-old, who arrived in Canada as an economic migrant through the Federal Skilled Worker Class and now lives in Langley, BC, says that he originally intended to visit the U.S. on Saturday, January 28. Initial reports that President Trump’s order would include Canadian dual citizens and permanent residents spoiled those plans.

On Sunday, however, Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Ahmed Hussen, held a press conference during which he stated “we have been assured by the White House that Canadian permanent residents with a valid Canadian Permanent Resident Card and a passport from those seven countries can still enter [the U.S.] as before.”

And so, based on the Minister’s statement that he had received assurance from his counterparts in the U.S., Zinalabdin drove to the border at Blaine, Washington.

“The visa officer asked me to wait. After an hour I asked them ‘can you please explain what I am waiting for?’ The officer said ‘Didn’t you hear the news? Don’t you know about the Executive Order? You cannot enter the United States.’

“Right from the beginning, when I gave them the passport, I said ‘here is my Canadian PR card as well,’ because I thought the card would solve the issue. Apparently, it did not,” added Zinalabdin, who says that the U.S. officials then asked for another form of identification, such as a driving license.

“Then after another thirty minutes, the fourth or fifth officer came in to me and said ‘we need fingerprints’, so he took all the fingerprints and I waited for another hour maybe, then I was released.

“They didn’t allow me to drive my own car. They said ‘no, we will drive your car, give me the keys’. They took the car and parked it towards the Canadian border where there is no way back. They drove the car from the customs building towards the one-way exit to Canada where I could not go back. Two officers escorted me walking towards that spot.”

Zinalabdin was denied entry after spending more than three hours at the border. He also had his visa, which had an expiry date in July, 2017, cancelled.

They’ve cancelled my visa now. I had a visiting visa, and I visited almost every week. It is now stamped with the word cancelled.”

It should be noted that Iranian, Iraqi, Libyan, Somali, Sudanese, Syrian and Yemeni citizens are barred from entering the United States for 90 days after the executive order was issued, which means the ban would end April 27. The fact that Zinalabdin’s visa has been cancelled only adds to the pain and confusion he now feels.

“I feel sad. I left the Middle East for this particular reason, because I don’t want to feel discriminated. This is exactly why I left my region. Yesterday I felt that back. I had a hard time sleeping.

“The visa officer was trying to explain himself and explain the rules of the country. He said ‘you know, this is our President, this is our land.’

“I said ‘yes, I respect that this is your land and you are free to do whatever you want on your land. But I feel this has been an undignified way of telling people to go off, specifically because you have previously given me the visa and I have not done anything wrong. He said ‘If you come knock on my door, do I have the right to say no to you or not?’ I said to him ‘you have the right, but if you tell me that I am welcome to come between this time and that time, and I knock on your door and you turn me back, now this is a problem. I have not done anything wrong, and I have played by your rules, you should not turn me back.’”

For Zinalabdin, the ordeal leaves many questions left unanswered. In all likelihood, with no visa and with no sign that Trump’s order may be overturned soon, he will have to miss an industry event he was due to attend this March in Chicago. The prospect that his work as a marketing manager in the dental supplies industry may be affected is an unforeseen reality.

There are more than 35,000 Canadians with dual citizenship from one of the seven specified countries. For instance, Immigration Minister Ahmed Hussen is himself a refugee from Somalia who obtained Canadian citizenship 15 years ago. Many more immigrants in Canada from the seven countries, such as Hicham Zinalabdin, hold permanent resident status.

As for the divergent views coming out from U.S. officials and the government of Canada, both parties were contacted by CICNews before this story was published. U.S. Customs and Border Protection at the Office of Field Operations in Blaine, WA, were unable to comment on the order, but did direct us to a Frequently Asked Questions page that includes the question ‘Does “from one of the seven countries” mean citizen, national or born in?’ For which the page states ‘Travelers are being treated according to the travel document they present.’

Meanwhile, a representative at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) was not able to comment further on the Minister’s statement, which was originally delivered to the press on January 29.

Credit: Canada Immigration News