US Increasingly Denying Entry to Muslims and Individuals of Certain Countries

by Joseph McKeown

In recent weeks, Muslims and individuals from certain countries are reportedly being refused entry to the US, leading some to think that innocent individuals are being caught up in increased US security measures.

Muslim Family Headed to Disneyland Denied Entry

In one case, a British Muslim family was barred earlier this month from flying from Gatwick Airport in the United Kingdom to the US for a vacation at Disneyland. Mohammed Zahid Mahmood said he and his family—which included two brothers and nine children—were not allowed to travel to the US for vacation, despite previously having obtained clearance. He told the BBC that his children were "traumatised, really upset" about the cancelled trip. "They think they've done something wrong," he said. "I want an explanation, and what's going to happen next. I would still like to go to America, I would like my kids to fulfil their dreams."

Stella Creasy, a member of the opposition Labour Party, said that her inquires to US officials on why her constituents—Mahmood and his family—were not allowed to board the flight to the US were not answered, and consequently she wrote to Prime Minister David Cameron to look into the matter, citing a "growing fear" among British Muslims that “aspects of Trump's plans are coming into practice even though they have been widely condemned.”

Because of other instances of US airlines either preventing Muslims or “Middle Eastern-looking” individuals from flying as well as alleged mistreatment, some think that presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed temporary ban on Muslims visiting the US and other anti-Muslim sentiment and discrimination in the US has led to increased and overly-aggressive scrutiny of Muslim and Middle-Eastern travelers to the US.

While Cameron’s office said they are investigating the matter, a top Muslim group in the UK said the incident appears to be related to the travelers’ religion and is very concerning to British Muslims. A US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokesman told ABC News that the "religion, faith or spiritual beliefs of an international traveler are not determining factors" for admittance to the US and that people can be denied entry for numerous reasons including health-related issues, prior criminal convictions, security concerns, or other grounds. The Muslim Council of Britain says the last-minute denial of boarding without explanation is unfair for Muslims. "There is a perception that such decisions are being made due to the faith or political activism of individuals," the council stated. 

Mahmood, whose family reportedly spent £9,000 on tickets for the Disneyland flights, told the Guardian that they received no explanation for why they were not allowed to board their flight, but he believed it was “because of the attacks on America—they think every Muslim poses a threat.” According to news reports, the US Embassy in London has not issued any comments or clarifications as to why Mahmood and his family were not permitted to travel to the US to visit Disneyland or regarding any increased travel security restrictions.

British Imam Ajmal Masroor Denied Entry

Ajmal Masroor, a British imam and broadcaster, reports he was also prevented from traveling to the US for business, despite having traveled to the US multiple times already this year. While Masroor was originally denied an ESTA, or Electronic System for Travel Authorization, after US Embassy staff contacted him to apply, he had been granted a business and tourism B1/B2 visa, which he said he used to travel to the US.

“In my mind, the refusal and revoking of my visa was calculated. For me it’s very callous,” he told the Guardian. In response, the US Embassy in London said: “The embassy is aware of this matter. We are in contact with the individual and therefore have no further public comment at this time.” Masroor believes US officials are singling out Muslims. "This is absolutely discrimination. It is not acceptable and playing into the hands of the terrorists," he said. Masroor also said he had heard of twenty similar cases of fellow Muslims being denied entry to the US, and David Cameron has been informed of additional cases as well.

In addition, Indian students have been denied entry to the US. In two separate cases, twenty Indian students with valid student visas for colleges in California were denied entry in Chicago and returned to India, and nineteen students were barred from boarding an Air India plane headed to San Francisco for the same schools.

It’s not only travelers to the US being excluded entrance, but Australia has also faced criticism for denying entry to certain individuals, including Zahra Ramadani, a Syrian-born British national whose visa was issued and revoked without explanation right before she was scheduled to fly to Sydney, and a Pakistani family who were trying to visit their terminally ill son who was unable to travel out of Australia.

Those who are planning a visit to the US should be aware of the proper ESTA and visa procedures and requirements, and also their rights if denied entry.