Washington, March 4 (PTI): In another incident of racial-profiling targeted at Asians, an Indian-Canadian was treated roughly at Chicago’s O’Hare airport and forced to fly to India after the cancellation of her passport by US immigration authorities.
Thiruvananthapuram-born Berna Cruz was stopped by US immigration officers because her last name was not “Singh” but Cruz. Her protests that there are “non-Singhs” of Indian origin and Christians who have Portuguese names were of no avail.
“I was trying to explain to them, but they did not want to listen to anything, they did not want to see anything,” Cruz was quoted as saying. Cruz said one officer asked why her surname was not “Singh” and commented that it was clever of her to use a Spanish name. “It was total abuse…. I want to see them (the officers responsible) punished.”
The Canadian national said she felt harassed because of the colour of her skin. She said the officers humiliated her and Canada, refusing to allow her to contact Canadian authorities.
The co-chairman of the India caucus, Democratic Congressman Joseph Crowley, has drawn the attention of fellow members of the caucus, Republican and Democratic, and Tom Ridge, secretary for homeland security, to this “outrage”.
Crowley has invited other members of the Congress to co-sign the letter that he has written to Ridge.
In his letter, Crowley said officers of the US immigration and naturalisation service at the airport in Chicago accused the Canadian national of entering the US using a fake Canadian passport. “We understand the need for heightened security… but the type of behaviour displayed by … officers at O’Hare airport is simply unacceptable,” he says.
Before Cruz was released, the officers cut out the front page of her passport and filled each page with “expedited removal” stamps, rendering her passport useless, he wrote.
The Congressman has also taken up the matter with the under-secretary of border transportation and the acting director of citizenship and immigration services, the daily said.
It took four days and help from Canadian officials in Dubai and a Kuwaiti airlines pilot to get Cruz back home.
Cruz sent a letter, along with an affidavit, about the removal of documents to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and foreign affairs minister Bill Graham.
Foreign affairs spokesman Reynald Doiron said the staff in Dubai issued Cruz an emergency passport and assisted in getting her home via London.
“We are going to bring her case to the attention of the state department in Washington, request an explanation on the … refusal to grant at least one phone call to Ms Cruz, and we will see what the American response is going to be,” Doiron said.
Doiron added that a full report is also expected from a Canadian official in Dubai and will be incorporated into the query that will be sent to the state department.
A spokeswoman for the immigration service in Chicago said she needed time to look into the Cruz story but added that officers have the authority to use expedited removals when passengers have no documents or are carrying documents that are suspected to be fraudulent or tampered with.
“We have very high-tech technology out there to detect these kinds of tampered documents,” she said. “Also, any individual who expresses an interest in speaking with their consular official, we grant that. We do it over the phone. We do it all day. We do it any time that request is made.”
Cruz, she added, is welcome to file a complaint.
Cruz said she wants the Canadian Prime Minister to speak out publicly about the incident in the hope that other Canadian citizens do not receive similar treatment. “It is horrible, it was humiliating,” she said. “What I felt was that it was total discrimination, racism.”
“I can’t get sleep at nights,” she told the daily. “I can’t really do anything. It has been a week since I really cooked for the kids.”