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Monday, September 12, 2005

Indian Woman Subjected to Harrowing Experience

Indian Woman Accused of Traveling With Fake Passport
NCM Civil Liberties Watch
India Post, Devasish Ray, Feb 27, 2003
In a clear incident of racial profiling, Berna Cruz, a Canadian Indian woman was subjected to a harrowing experience, when not one but five officers of the INS accused her of traveling with a fake passport at Chicago’s O’ Hare airport on January 27.
“It’s horrible. It was humiliating,” said Cruz. “What I felt was that it was total discrimination, racism.”To add insult to injury Cruz was denied consular access, a phone call and threatened with jail. A cornered Cruz, desperate and in tears pleaded with the officers that her passport was genuine and that she had two children who were waiting for her in Canada. Cruz, who works as a loan officer in a Canadian Bank said that instead of listening to her pleas the officers, proceeded to rip off the front page of her passport and stamp “expedited removal” on each blank page rendering it ineffectual. Fingerprinted, photographed and barred from re-entering the US for five years, Cruz was removed to India and not Canada. Recounting her nightmarish experience Cruz said that on arriving at the O’Hare airport from Kuwait, an INS officer told her that her photograph on the passport looked “funky.” Subsequently she was sequestered in a room where other passengers were being checked. She noticed that another woman who spoke Punjabi was being meted out similar treatment. To her horror, Cruz noticed that all people in that room were of “color.” Cruz recounted that the INS officers became abusive when she insisted that her passport was real.“It was a total abuse,” Cruz said in an interview with the Star. “I want to see them punished for this and bring some justice.”This week, Cruz sent a letter, along with a sworn affidavit, and the INS removal documents to Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien and Foreign Affairs Minister Bill Graham.The letter arrived at the Prime Minister’s office yesterday, and staff had not had a chance to look into the story. But Foreign Affairs spokesperson Reynald Doiron confirmed yesterday that staff in Dubai issued Cruz an emergency passport and assisted in getting her home, via London.“We’re going to bring her case to the attention of the State Department in Washington, request an explanation on the INS refusal to grant at least one phone call to Ms Cruz, and we’ll see what the American response is going to be,” Doiron said last night.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, said Doiron.A spokesperson for the INS in Chicago said she needed time to look into Cruz’s story but did say 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,” said Gail Montenegro. “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.”Montenegro said Cruz is welcome to file a complaint and that the INS takes complaints about officer conduct seriously. Cruz feels she was harassed because of the color of her skin. She says the INS officers humiliated her, and Canada, by refusing to allow her to contact Canadian authorities.Cruz was born in Trivandrum, India, and immigrated to Canada in 1994. Five years later, she became a citizen and traded in her Indian passport for a Canadian one. Her birthplace is noted in the passport, and it’s the same passport, she says, the INS officers suspected was a fake.An officer, says Cruz, suggested she had bought it in Sri Lanka and asked how much it cost her.Cruz says an officer also asked here why her surname was not “Singh” and commented that it was clever of her to use a Spanish name. Cruz, who is separated from her husband, says she told the officers that her maiden name is Fernandez. It is not uncommon for Indian-born people to have Portuguese surnames, but the officers did not seem to care, she says.“They said, ‘You better tell the truth because we know this is not a valid Canadian passport. We’ll throw you in jail,’” Cruz recalled.An officer, she says, held the passport up to a light on the ceiling, flipped through pages and said there were “chemicals” on it that indicated it was fake.What’s odd, says Cruz, is that the passport hadn’t been doubted when she was leaving Toronto, via the U.S., for India, and on previous trips to Boston, New York and Spain.Cruz says she tried to show the officers other identification she had in her purse, but they weren’t interested. “I was trying to explain to them, but they didn’t want to listen to anything, they didn’t want to see anything.”As many as five INS officers were involved in the questioning, said Cruz. “They just gave me two options: end up in jail (and wait several days to speak with Canadian officials) or take the flight. I pleaded with them to get in touch with the Canadian embassy, or if I could make a call, and they said no.”She says she was hurried on to a flight destined for India, via Kuwait. The captain of the Kuwaiti Airlines flight had been handed her altered passport by American officials and, mid-flight, asked Cruz what had happened.The INS, which Cruz felt would make it difficult for her to even re-enter India, also stamped her valid Indian visa.The pilot agreed she could not go back to India with a destroyed passport and told her he would take care of the mess once on the ground in Kuwait.“He was very, very helpful.” Cruz spent three days in Kuwait City while Canadian officials at the Dubai consulate sorted out the mess and issued an emergency passport.When Cruz didn’t arrive home and missed work, her family in India and Toronto became worried and, without knowing what had happened, a family member told her boss that she was sick.Two days later, the pilot who helped Cruz had his daughter phone Cruz’s Employer to tell them what had happened. But with two different stories, and no word from Cruz herself, her employer took her off payroll and assigned her desk to someone else.The work problems have since been sorted out, although she did not want to name the bank she works for. But, Cruz says she hasn’t found a way to deal with the range of emotions she’s now feeling.“It’s really hard. I can’t get to sleep at nights,” she said. “I can’t really do anything. It’s been a week since I really cooked for the kids.” Cruz says she wants the Prime Minister to speak out publicly about the Incident in the hope other Canadian citizens do not receive similar treatment.“It’s horrible. It was humiliating,” said Cruz. “What I felt was that it was total discrimination, racism.”
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User Comments
V Quadros
Mar 08, 2003 03:12:29
I am an Indian female and had an identical experience to Ms Cruz in 1994. I travelled to the USA, from Kuwait, and at the O'Hare Airport in Chicago was subjected to same experience. I was told my passport photo had been tampered with, my US visa and my Indian passport were fakes. When I suggested that they contact the US Embassy that issued my visa and thus verify my visa and that the Indian Consulate in Chicago could do the same for my passport, I was told that this was not the job of the immigration officals, that I had an attitude problem, and my choices were to either go to jail or to leave the country on the next flight. I was also refused the right to make any phone calls. I was made to feel like a criminal.Ms Cruz I do understand exactly what you are going through.
Cera Lawrence
Mar 03, 2003 09:11:29
We are no longer skirting the edge of a very slippery slope -- we are heading down it at near terminal velocity. This is only one relatively small though very intense example of the continued erosion of civil liberties in the US. The time for action was ten years ago and I greatly fear that at this point there may be nothing that can be done about it, certainly nothing bloodless. This will label me a terrorist. I am prepared to face that for the good of my country.
Ashok Gupta
Mar 02, 2003 14:52:26
We have heard one side of the story, however, it would have been prudent on the part of the INS officers to contact the respective consulate offices (Canadian, Mexican/ Sri Lankan and/or Indian) whatever they think was the nationality of the passenger to find out the correctness before just leaving any person homeless. Even if the passport was fake or the person concerned was considered criminal, he or she must have been directed to their home and not in between.
Nathan Bahirathan
Feb 28, 2003 14:00:04
The American education system is US-centric. That makes them, except a few, very Illiterate about the world or it's people. The average American does not know any thing otherthan USA or the Caribbean, where they go for holidays. Unless it is very necessary it is better to avoid going to USA.
xyz
Feb 28, 2003 13:56:54
It looks like the officers in charge in the states were hell bent on giving Cruz a hard time whether or not her passport was genuine or fake. I also think they took the liberty to harass her because she was travelling alone and especially being a woman I think they were just taking the upperhand with her and throwing their weight around. The people responsible for her distress should be sacked as this is delibrate harrassment. Post your comments

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