FRESNO, California — A German businessman of Syrian descent who said he wanted to surprise his daughter with a holiday visit was detained for four days in a Las Vegas cell before being sent home without explanation.
A civil rights group said the U.S. authorities’ treatment of the businessman, Majed Shehadeh, was a case of anti- Muslim discrimination.
Shehadeh, 62, flew from Frankfurt to Las Vegas last Thursday, hoping to meet his wife and drive to Bakersfield, California, where his American-born daughter had just gotten news that she had passed the California bar exam. Instead, he wound up shivering in a holding cell without ever being told why he could not enter the country, he said.
Roxanne Hercules, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, confirmed Tuesday that Shehadeh had been denied entry, but would not discuss specifics of his case. She said Shehadeh’s visa waiver could have been denied because “he could have a criminal record, or it could be a terrorism issue.”
In October, an Islamic scholar from South Africa was denied entry at San Francisco International Airport. A month later, six imams were taken off a US Airways flight from Minneapolis to Phoenix after a passenger reported overhearing them criticize the Iraq war.
Shehadeh landed Thursday afternoon on a Condor Airlines flight to McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, where his wife, an American, was waiting to pick him up.
“I gave them my German passport, and he looked to see which countries I visited,”
Shehadeh said Tuesday by telephone from his home in Alzenau, Germany. “He found I had stamps that looked like Arabic.
“Nobody ever informed me why I was being questioned,” he said. “All that was ever told to me was this had to do with Washington.”
Shehadeh said he had been interrogated by Border Protection and FBI agents for more than 12 hours at the airport.
Officials told family members they had denied Shehadeh’s visa waiver, which grants German citizens the right to enter with no additional paperwork, said his wife, Joanne Mulligan.