Yassmin Abdel-Magied, a world-famous Muslim author and activist, had just landed at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport when she was abruptly taken aside by United States Customs and Border Protection.
Abdel-Magied says the agents took her phone and passport, and warned her she was likely to be deported instead of rerouted to New York. The author, who holds dual citizenships in Sudan and Australia, was detained for three hours before authorities put her on a flight back to London.
Abdel-Magied narrated her ordeal to friends and fans in a series of tweets.
** if they will let me in. I’m currently at the border and they’ve said I’m being deported. This should be fun. What are my rights ? https://t.co/fv12WoSSwf— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 11, 2018
They’ve taken my phone, cancelled my visa and are deporting me. Will follow up on messages once I understand what’s going on. https://t.co/uT61v8cZXG— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 11, 2018
Also lol. Funniest thing is that throughout this whole ordeal all I am thinking about is what a good story this will make. We all have ways of dealing with situations.— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 11, 2018
Interesting facts: within a few min of looking at my case the border security person - Officer Herberg looking at my case she announces: ‘we’re sending you back!’— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
Roughly three hours since touch down in Minneapolis, I’m on a plane back. Subhanallah. Well, guess that tightening of immigration laws business is working, despite my Australian passport. We’re taking off now. What a time...— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
Oh, and they still have my passport. Apparently I can’t be trusted with it until I’m in a foreign country because, as Officer Blees said, ‘planes get turned away back way too often and then...’— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
Oh yuh and did I mention they took my phone for the whole time? Fortunately I’m a paranoid person - notifications don’t show previews of messages, and a 12 digit passcode. Always be vigilant, yo.— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
Plane is up. See y’all on the other side, inshallah.— Yassmin Abdel-Magied (@yassmin_a) April 12, 2018
In a statement, a spokesperson for Customs and Border Patrol said Abdel-Magied had the wrong type of visa for a paid speaking appearance. “During the inspection, CBP officers determined this individual did not possess the appropriate visa…” the statement reads. "As such, she was deemed inadmissible to enter the United States for her visit…”
In messages over Twitter to the New York Times, Abdel-Magied said she was traveling with a B1/B2 visa and had used the visa for travels to the United States before.
The B1/B2 visa allows for foreigners to travel to the country for “scientific, educational, professional or business convention or conference," but does not allow paid performances.
In an official statement over Twitter, Abdel-Magied said she was “seeking advice and working to resolve this issue as soon as possible. I appreciate the interest and concern and look forward to future travels to the United States.”
The author had been scheduled to appear at the PEN World Voices Festival, a literary and human rights event in New York City, where she was invited to speak on her experience as a Muslim woman in a Western country and on online harassment. Other speakers booked for the festival include Roxanne Gay, Dave Eggers, Sean Penn, Chimamanda Ngozie-Adichie, and Hillary Clinton.
A statement from a festival official expressed concern with Abdel-Magied's situation, and called on Customs and Border Patrol to allow Abdel-Magied into the United States. “We are dismayed that an invited guest … was turned away by U.S. Immigration officials in Minneapolis,” the statement read in part.
In a follow-up statement, the festival official advised other international participants to obtain legal advice on their travel status. “The barriers for international writers and artists visiting the U.S. are growing, impairing the ability of PEN America and other organizations to cross border dialogues that are so essential at this time.” The statement noted that the event was founded after 9/11 as a way of “sustaining connectedness between the U.S. and the wider world.”
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