FW: Canadian "deported"

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Thu Mar 6 10:24:50 MST 2003

Humiliated by US immigration staff



Toronto Star:

A Toronto woman coming home from India says she was
pulled aside at Chicago's O'Hare Airport, accused of
using a fake Canadian passport, denied consular
assistance and threatened with jail.

In tears and desperate, Berna Cruz says she told U.S.
Immigration and Naturalization Services (INS) officers
she didn't want to go to jail. She told them she had to
get home to her two children and was expected to be at
work the next day at a branch of a major Toronto bank
where she works as a loan officer.

Instead of jailing her on Jan. 27, an INS officer cut
the front page of Cruz's passport and filled each page
with "expedited removal" stamps, rendering it useless.

She was photographed, fingerprinted, barred from
re-entering the U.S. for five years and immediately

Not to Toronto, but to India, where she had just spent
several weeks visiting her parents.

It took four days, and help from Canadian officials in
Dubai and a Kuwaiti Airlines pilot, to get her back

"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 Chrétien 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

Cruz feels she was harassed because of the colour of
her skin. She says the INS officers humiliated her, and
Canada, by refusing to allow her to contact Canadian

Her ordeal began shortly after her flight from India,
via Kuwait, arrived in Chicago the night of Jan. 27.
With about two hours to spare before her connecting
flight to Toronto, she had to first clear U.S. customs
and immigration.

At the counter, she says an INS officer told her the
picture on her passport looked "funky." She was brought
to a room where other passengers were being checked.
They all seemed to be people of colour, she says. She
says she noticed that a passenger from her flight who
spoke Punjabi had also been pulled aside.

Cruz insisted the passport was real. INS officers, she
says, said otherwise and became abusive.

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's not uncommon for Indian-born
people to have Portuguese surnames, but the officers
didn't 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

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.

Her valid Indian visa was also stamped by the INS,
which Cruz felt would make it difficult for her to even
re-enter India.

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

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 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."

  - R

T. Ryan Gregory, Ph.D.
Division of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th St.
New York, NY
10024 USA

email: rgregory at genomesize.com


------ End of Forwarded Message
Michael Friedman
Ph.D. Candidate in Ecology, Evolutionary Biology and Behavior
City University of New York

Molecular Laboratory
Department of Invertebrate Zoology
American Museum of Natural History
Central Park West at 79th Street
New York, NY  10024
(212) 769-5608

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