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Calls for Govt to hold talks with US now as Trinis quizzed, visas cancelled

Published: 
Wednesday, February 1, 2017

After some T&T Muslim families encountered problems with US immigration authorities in recent weeks—including visa cancellation—attorney Nafeesa Mohammed is calling for T&T and US authorities to find mechanisms to ensure people are fairly treated.

“... Before this situation reaches paranoia level—which is already building —T&T and US authorities should try to deal with the situation via diplomacy and dialogue to prevent unfair targeting,” Mohammed told the T&T Guardian yesterday.

Her call comes three weeks after some of her relatives encountered issues with US Immigration on landing in America. One family member was questioned about their relationship to her nephew, Tariq Mohammed.

Tariq, son of her brother Shamoon Mohammed, was an Islamic studies student in Saudi Arabia for several years. He and his family returned home for a visit last August 15, when he was interviewed by Special Branch. When the family returned to Saudi Arabia via Turkey as they usually did, he was detained in Saudi Arabia on suspicion of terrorism.

After the Mohammed family lobbied for his release—stating he was innocent—Tariq was released and sent home just before Christmas.

Yesterday, Mrs Mohammed said, “Because my name has been heard in connection with persons who were detained, I’d like to ensure the process is fair and my names—and others’—isn’t red-flagged for the wrong reason.

“I’d like to know what mechanism exists through our Government officials to ensure innocent people aren’t treated unfairly. The current situation has created uncertainty in our family.”

She added, “I’m sure Government can help get mechanisms in place with US collaboration to help TT nationals travelling to the US to verify if they’ve been red-flagged in any way and give us the opportunity to go before any authority and help clear our names.

“A lot of stereotyping is occurring, presenting awkward, arbitrary and sometime discriminatory situations which are harsh and oppressive. We live in a democracy and always had good US relations.”

T&T Guardian checks in other Muslim quarters revealed that other Trinis encountered similar issues, but these pre-dated last week’s US visa ban on seven countries.

Sources, who requested anonymity for the people involved, confirmed that another Muslim family—related to Tariq Mohammed— also encountered difficulties on a trip to Miami in January. The family was kept in a room overnight and questioned and their visas were eventually cancelled. They were told their visas had an error and they returned to T&T after release.

A young South engineer, who travelled to Fort Lauderdale last November, was also questioned on arrival, his visa was cancelled and he was sent back to T&T, the T&T Guardian confirmed.

A Port-of-Spain businessman who has long-standing business ties with the US, was also called recently and his visa was cancelled, it was confirmed.

Foreign Affairs Minister Dennis Moses—unavailable yesterday to comment on Mohammed’s concerns—had said on Tuesday that T&T recognises the sovereign rights of the United States, or any other country, to grant or deny entry of nationals of other countries into the US.

Moses said so regarding concerns by T&T green card holders about issues they could encounter on seeking to re-enter the US if they visit T&T for Carnival 2017.

The concern comes following last weekend’s US executive order stipulating a 90-day visa ban on seven countries—Syria, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Yemen, Somalia and Sudan—to secure the US from terrorism.

Contacted on the Mohammed family case yesterday, US Embassy officials said issues concerning people landing in the US were handled by Homeland Security.

Clarifying concerns by T&T nationals about the executive order, Embassy officials said the visa ban doesn’t affect T&T nationals who are permanent legal residents of the US and who hold TT passports. It also does not affect T&T citizens holding dual citizenship of other countries, who use T&T passports.

The Embassy stated: “TT citizens who are legal permanent residents of the US—and are not dual nationals of one of the seven countries affected by the US executive order—are not affected by the (executive) order.”

They said clarifications are still incoming. On whether T&T nationals may be red-flagged by the US because of the 130 T&T nationals which Government confirmed have been involved in terrorist activities overseas, Embassy officials said there was no visa ban on several other countries where foreign terrorist fighters (FTFs) have originated.

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