WASHINGTON: Anxiety and unease is spreading among Indian travellers to the United States, including those holding valid visas, Green cards, and even American citizenship, following sporadic incidents of secondary inspection and detention at US airports.
Such accounts were amplified by an Indian-American law firm in New York that sent out a memo advising avoiding travel to the US in the short term “until things settle down”.
“It’s a dynamic situation at ports of entry and in immigration enforcement at the current time. Generally, there are always problems at ports of entry. But they were statistically low prior. Now we have seen them increase for some immigrants, especially who are from or in possession of a visa to visit a country on the list of the banned countries, and other countries that are predominantly Muslim,” reads the memo from Madan and Saigal LLC in New York.
The advisory follows reports of immigrants, some from India, being subjected to extended questioning at airports, including some being put back on flights to India.
In one instance, a US citizen of Indian-origin was reportedly strip-searched at Washington Dulles airport earlier this week even though he was on a domestic flight and had been pre-checked by the Transportation Security Authority (TSA). A former Norway PM was detained for an hour because his passport showed he visited Iran in 2014 — for a human rights conference. “I’m not at all saying this to demonize TSA. They’re just trying to keep us all safe.
But, innocent US citizens on domestic flights who ‘look a certain way’ can’t be targets because then everyone is a target,” Mythili Sampathkumar, a New York-based writer who detailed her father’s detention in Washington DC, wrote on Twitter.
She said she was making the incident public “also for Indian-Americans who voted for Trump…because we knew this would happen and you still voted for him bec you (Hindus mostly) thought, well we’re not Muslims or Mexicans. That means nothing — we’re in this together.”
While such incidents appear to be sporadic, the anxiety among people of Indian-origin was heightened following an initial advisory attributed to Madan and Saigal that was distributed widely on social media before it was later tempered. The memo advised all travellers to scrub their travel plans and also scrub their phones if they could not avoid travel because the Customs and Border Patrol was asking to review social media accounts.
The memo also provided guidance to citizens and green card holders of Indian origin on how to handle questioning by immigration officials. “Currently CBP’s position is that GC holder is NOT entitled to admission to the US on each entry — it will be a case by case determination. This is probably going to lead to more restrictive admissions,” the memo warned, while advising, “If asked your opinion about Trump or love of country — be creative in your positive responses.”
“Thus, our recommendation is to STOP ALL AIR TRAVEL. The next 6 months or longer are going to be extremely rocky for everyone who is ‘brown’ irrespective of country of nationality /religion/ethnicity,” the memo said. The firm’s partner Neal Madan did not deny the advisory came from their office but said that “There has been so much material out there amended, changed and taken out of context etc. from so many lawyers that no one can verify anything.”
In an updated memo sent to a news agency, Madan advised people of Indian origin to “not SUBMIT YOURSELF TO AVOIDABLE SCRUTINY AT THIS TIME, AND WHILE THESE MATTERS ARE SORTED OUT. HOPEFULLY THE CLIMATE WILL GET BETTER SOON.”