Muslim man wonders if cross-border incident is slowing his citizenship application

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Muslim man wonders if cross-border incident is slowing his citizenship application

A Mississauga man believes an encounter during which he was questioned about his Muslim faith at a Canada-United States border crossing has thrown a wrench into his plans to become a Canadian citizen.

Moinul Hussain Syed, a telecommunications expert who arrived in Ontario from India seven years ago, says he was detained by U.S. border guards while attempting to cross into Buffalo in the summer of 2015.

"The questions that were thrown to me were about my faith, like how many times I pray," Syed told CBC Toronto. "They looked at me with suspicion."

Syed says he and his wife were locked in a room and questioned briefly about their travel history, why they were entering the U.S. and whether he planned to work there. But the majority of the questions, he said, centred on his faith, including whether he was "moderate" or "fundamentalist."

They remained there for eight hours before the U.S. guards told him they were revoking his visa and denying him entry. He'd been scheduled to a help a relative in New York State move the next day, he says.

But it's what happened later that has Syed confused and frustrated.

He says that although he had applied for citizenship earlier in 2014, his application has still not been processed. His wife, who applied several months after him, was granted citizenship last summer.

He says his calls to Citizenship and Immigration Canada (CIC) have provided no clues about the delay in his own application, which has led him to believe it was the incident at the U.S. border that's behind it.

Syed says he has also contacted the Royal Canadian Mounted Police and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, but is no closer to learning whether the U.S. passed information about his encounter on to Canadian authorities — which he believes could explain why Ottawa is not moving faster to process his application.

CBC Toronto has contacted US Customs and Border Protection about Syed's claims, but has not yet received a reply.

In an email to CBC Toronto,  CIC spokesperson Remi Lariviere said, "Mr. Syed's citizenship application is still under review. Applications are processed on the basis of their individual circumstances, and processing times can vary."

CIC has not yet responded to further questions about Syed's case, including whether his detention at the border has caused delays in processing his application.

According to the CIC website, delays in processing a citizenship application can be a sign that the application is "non-routine."

And Toronto immigration lawyer Guidy Mamman - who does not represent Syed - says the encounter could mean Ottawa is reticent in granting him citizenship.

"If the Americans had him locked up in a room for eight hours, and I understand they cancelled a lawfully-obtained visa right then and there, they absolutely had concerns about him," Mamman said Friday. "Is it possible that they shared that information with the Canadians? Absolutely."

"And would the Canadians be taking that into account in connection with granting this person citizenship? Yeah I have no doubt that's a possibility, if not a probability."

Syed says he has no criminal record and had never before had problems crossing any international border, which makes him wonder whether someone with a similar name has come under U.S. scrutiny - something that Mamman maintains "happens all the time, especially in certain cultures."

Mamman also points out that although several years ago applications for Canadian citizenship could be processed in under a year, that has now changed. He says it's no longer unusual for processing to take several years, and much longer than that if there are complications, as there appear to be in Syed's case.

'Be patient'

He also pointed out that American authorities, like those in Canada and other countries, are under no obligation to explain why they're refusing entry to a non-citizen.

His advice to Syed? "He's just going to have to be patient." If there's no resolution in a year or two, Mamman suggests Syed go to federal court and ask a judge to force the federal government to either grant him citizenship or explain why it's taking so long to process the application.

In the meantime, Syed says the delay is causing him stress and frustration both at work and at home.

Not taking chances

He says his job requires that he travel - something he's refused to do since the incident at the border, since "I do not want to take chances."

Syed says it's also taken a toll on his personal life.

"Home life, when it comes to this incident and its aftermath, has been stressful," he said. "It's affected me mentally."