Deported With A Valid U.S. Visa, Jordanian Says Message Is ‘You’re Not Welcome’
By JANE ARRAF
Feb 24 2017
Yahya Abu Romman, a 22-year-old languages major, had just graduated from university. To celebrate, he planned a six-week trip to the U.S., where his brother, uncles and aunts and more than a dozen cousins have lived for years.
With good grades, an engaging personality and fluency in three languages — English, Arabic and Spanish — he had worked as a nature conservation ranger while studying, and had his pick of jobs with tour companies in Jordan, a strong U.S. ally.
In 2015, Abu Romman was issued a tourist visa at the U.S. embassy in Amman, good for five years. With money from a graduation present, he bought a round-trip ticket and landed at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport a few days after the start of President Trump’s travel ban on the citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries.
That’s where the positive impression of the U.S. he’d inherited from his father came to a screeching halt.
“My dad is a graduate from the University of Illinois,” says Abu Romman. “He always told me America is the land of justice, land of opportunities, of generosity. That there are very kind people. And there are. But I think things have changed.”
Abu Romman is a Jordanian citizen, but born in Syria. He’s been to Syria only once since birth — and being born in an Arab country doesn’t automatically confer citizenship there. Instead, citizenship is generally based your father’s nationality. Still, Abu Romman couldn’t persuade the border officer at O’Hare that he wasn’t Syrian.
“He said, ‘Sir, if you were born in Syria, you should have a Syrian passport,’ ” says Abu Romman at his family’s home off a winding street in the Jordanian capital. “I said, ‘Why should I have a Syrian passport? My father is Jordanian. My mother is Jordanian. We all are Jordanian, but it happened to be in Syria where I was born.’ He knocked on the glass next to him, to his colleague. He said, ‘We might have a problem with this.”
The questions moved on to the case of Abu Romman’s brother, who had lived illegally in the U.S. and overstayed a visa before becoming a citizen. Then border guards went through Abu Romman’s phone and found emails he’d sent to flight schools in the U.S. and other countries.
Abu Romman says his dream was to learn to fly, and he was simply asking about scholarships. But the officer wasn’t convinced that he wasn’t planning to stay in the U.S.
“He said, ‘Sir, we’re going to be cancelling your visa,'” says Abu Romman.
He shows me his U.S. visa with the words “Revoked – cancelled by CBP” – Customs and Border Protection — written across it with a red marker.