A Canadian doctor originally from Afghanistan was held for five hours at the US border and questioned about his “tribal chief” before he was eventually allowed entry to the US.
Sardar Ahmad left Afghanistan more than a decade ago to move to the United States on a prestigious Fulbright scholarship. In 2007, he moved to Canada to complete his medical residency, eventually setting up practice in the southern Ontario city of Sarnia and becoming a Canadian citizen.
After receiving notice that his Nexus card – part of a program designed to expedite border crossings for low-risk, pre-approved travellers – had been revoked, Ahmad decided to use his lunch break on Friday to pay a visit to the Nexus office in Michigan.
As he explained the situation to officials at the Blue Water Bridge crossing, Ahmad said his car keys were taken from him. He was then held for more than five hours and questioned about his life in Afghanistan, the family he had left behind and whether he had seen “a lot of gunmen” while growing up there.
“It was frustrating for me because I was worried, I was scared, I didn’t know what was going to happen next,” the 43-year-old doctor told the Sarnia Observer. “You never know. They could put you in jail. You could lose your career – everything – all overnight.”
His story comes amid reports that a new refugee and immigration order will be signed by Donald Trump in the coming days. The US president’s previous order, which included a ban on travellers from seven Muslim-majority countries, sparked chaos and uncertainty around the world when it was signed in late January.
Despite a federal court blocking the enforcement of the original order, claims of aggressive treatment at the border lingered. Last month a Moroccan-born Canadian citizen said she had been grilled about her faith and her views on Donald Trump as she attempted to cross into Vermont for a day of shopping.
After four hours at the border, she – along with two of her children and an adult cousin, all of whom were carrying Canadian passports – were denied entry to the US.
Last week, as Ahmad was being held by border officials, he worried about the elderly patients who were waiting to see him at his clinic. “I was telling (the US border agents): ‘I need to call my clinic to at least cancel the patients,’ and they said, ‘No, you can’t touch the phone.’”
While an official did eventually allow him to contact the clinic and enter the US, Ahmad said he declined to enter the country and that the experience left him with little interest in traveling to the US again.
When contacted by the Sarnia Observer, US Customs and Border Protection said it could not discuss individual cases due to privacy concerns. In its email, the agency noted that it was “committed to the fair, impartial and respectful treatment of all members of the trade and traveling public”.
- Correction: an earlier version of this story said that Sardar Ahmad was barred from entering the US. In fact he was detained for five hours and eventually cleared to enter, but declined to go.
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