[The writer is president and founder of Search for Common Ground, a Washington-based nonprofit organization that works to find peaceful solutions to conflict around the world.]
On Jan. 26, my office received a call from an immigration agent at Dulles International Airport, who said that my colleague Rashad Bukhari had been refused entry to the United States. He was not charged with anything, the agent said, and would be eligible for a future visa.
In fact, when Rashad arrived at Dulles, his Pakistani passport contained a valid, multi-entry visa, issued less than two years before by the U.S. State Department in Islamabad. He used this visa in 2007 to enter the United States without difficulty. Rashad is 36, and he worked for two American organizations, including the U.S. Institute of Peace, before he joined us at Search for Common Ground in 2007. He is Urdu-language editor of our Common Ground News Service, whose goal is to build bridges between the Muslim world and the West.
Immigration officials at Dulles could have easily verified all of this if Rashad had been allowed to make a phone call or if they themselves had chosen to check. Rather, they detained him for 15 hours, temporarily took away his cellphone and laptop, and eventually put him on a plane back to Pakistan. They prepared a transcript of the encounter in which an official justifies the United States not honoring Rashad's visa by saying, "You appear to be an intending [sic] immigrant."
Rashad answered that he has a wife and three children in Pakistan, that his job is based there, that he had a return ticket and that he had no intention of remaining in the United States.
Rashad later told us that the agent said -- in words that do not appear in the transcript -- that if he "voluntarily" withdrew and did not try appealing to more senior immigration officials, he would have a chance to return to the United States after getting a new visa; otherwise, he would face a five-year ban. In either case, Rashad was told, he would have to leave.
Faced with this Hobson's choice, Rashad "voluntarily" left the country. (Full Story)