A Quebec college student was denied entry at the U.S. border after being interrogated for five hours regarding his national background and religious beliefs.
Yassine Aber, a student athlete at the University of Sherbrooke in Quebec, Canada, was blocked at the U.S. border into Vermont while traveling to a Boston track competition on Thursday. Aber was stopped at the Stanstead crossing, where authorities asked him if he attended a mosque.
Aber’s parents are from Morocco, but Aber, 19, was born in Canada and has a Canadian passport. Aber told The Canadian Press:
“They asked me very specific questions about, do I go to the mosque or not, what mosque do I go to, some specific questions about people I may or may not know. They were very precise with the questions, very targeted.”
Aber also stated that he was fingerprinted, photographed, and asked to hand over his phone and passwords. U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents then searched the student’s phone and found a picture of him on Facebook where he was tagged with fellow student Samir Halilovic, who is suspected of having left the university to join Islamic fighters in Syria.
Aber told CBC news that he and Halilovic had friends in common and attended the same mosque, but also said that the two were not close friends. The image found, he said, is a group photo taken at a wedding four years ago.
Aber’s Canadian passport was valid, and he was stopped while traveling in the same vehicle as his coach and five other student athletes. They were forced to wait five hours while Aber was interrogated. Aber was denied entry, eventually, and his fellow students and coach continued to the meet in Boston without him.
Although the reasons for his denial were unclear, experts suggest it was his cause relationship with Halilovic. According to CBC, border agents are not required to give the reason for denying entry. Montreal immigration lawyer Julie Lessard told CBC:
“That might be the reason why. They will look at all connections and if they have any belief that he could be linked to anything that could be a threat to security, that’s a reason that they can use for denying your entry.”
Aber claims he was told that he didn’t have the right travel documents, telling CBC:
“I received an official paper saying I didn’t have papers, a passport or an immigration visa that was valid.”
According to Aber, his passport is valid until 2026.
“I was told it’s a privilege for people from other countries to come to the United States and that privilege can be taken away at any time.”
Despite his frustration, Aber said he doesn’t feel like he was racially profiled.
“I really can’t say what their motives are, so I do not want to put anybody in any boxes. I do not think it’s my race or my religion. Sure, the questions were aimed at that — that’s a fact. But I can’t say for sure if that’s the reason and I don’t want to make statements about things I cannot say for sure.”
Aber is frustrated about missing his track meet and is concerned that he won’t be able to attend a training camp in the U.S. this spring. The young man competes in the U.S. frequently and is concerned that he has been banned. Tellingly, this is the first time he’s had trouble entering the U.S. to complete. Because Trump’s travel ban was struck down in court, and because neither Morocco nor Canada were included, incidents at the Canadian border are especially troubling.
The Canadian government is looking into previous reports from Canadian citizens with Moroccan roots being denied entry at the U.S. border between Quebec and Vermont. According to CBC, Aber is the fifth such case.
Four Canadians — two adults and two children — were halted at the same border last week and interrogated about their Muslim religion. They were also denied entry while attempting to make a day trip into Vermont.
According to Nanaimo News, Fadwa Alaoui, a Moroccan-born woman who has lived in Canada for 20 years, said the questions she was asked under interrogation were almost exclusively regarding her Muslim religion. She also says that the border authorities wanted to know what she thought about Donald Trump.
Murray Rankin, a Canadian Member of Parliament urged Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to discuss the case with Trump when the two meet on Monday for the first time. Rankin told reporters.
“Our prime minister needs to speak with Donald Trump when they meet next week and say that a Canadian, born in Canada, who happens to be of another faith, a Muslim faith, does not need a visa to go to the United States.
“There’s not a rule for Muslims and a rule for other Canadians. It’s shocking, and we need the government to start taking action.”
Yassine Aber describes his bizarre experience during this unprecedented interrogation of a Canadian citizen by U.S. border agents in the video below:
Featured image via CBC video screenshot