* This blog originally appeared as an article by Courtney in the Daily Star, a Lebanese English-language daily newspaper. *
As days turn into weeks Father Emile Sayata remains holed up in a Toronto hotel, awaiting a response to his request for entry to the United States and learning first-hand about the discrimination inherent in the new security rules implemented by the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Department of Homeland Security.
Dressed in the black suit of a clergy man, albeit without his collar, Sayata arrived at Toronto airport expecting to get through security in about five minutes, as he had on his previous 20 visits to the US. He handed the US immigration officials his Jordanian passport, indicating that he is a Catholic priest with a valid five-year multiple entry visa.
Renowned peace advocate and religious leader Sayata was then taken into an INS interrogation room where he underwent five humiliating hours of being interrogated, fingerprinted, photographed and searched, only to be denied entry to the United States, ostensibly because he had the wrong visa. Consultation with State Department officials by Sayata revealed that his visa, obtained from the US embassy in Jordan, was in order.
“I think that the INS or the Home Land Security Department is going too far in their measures and are applying discriminatory measures towards Arabs, regardless of their backgrounds,” said Sayata in an interview with the Daily Star. “Here I’m an Arab Catholic Priest, harassed, embarrassed, profiled, and denied entry to the US.”
Along with his request to be allowed reentry into the United States, Sayata and his supporters are demanding that the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration services apologize to Sayata “for his embarrassment and humiliation,” according to a press release from the HCEF.
“This discriminational profiling and not allowing me to proceed with my visit to the States did affect me and my mission for the Diocese,” said Sayata. “The Patriarch is upset with the unfair treatment and denial of my entry visa.”
Sayata, a Roman Catholic priest of the Latin patriarch in Jerusalem who is pursuing his doctorate in Rome, travels frequently to the United States for church business. He applied in Jordan for his visa as a representative of his Diocese, charged with contacting US churches, and as co-founder and speaker for HCEF, capacities in which he had previously traveled to the United States and had no problems.
Sayata has been stranded in Toronto since July 20, prevented from attending meetings with top level church officials in the United States or accompanying his Patriarch on an official US visit. Sayata had been in the United States only three days before his detention in Canada, having made a brief trip north to appear on a television show and be interviewed. Despite his still valid visa which had allowed him to enter the US on July 3, he cannot re-enter the US and a profile number has been added to his visa.
“As I was told by the INS inspector I am not allowed to enter the States with my current valid visa, and with my new profile and the number they added to my visa on my passport, for sure the denial to enter the States is still on,” said Sayata.
“Over the last 13 years I have made more than 20 trips and always respected and loved this country and the people,” Sayata said about the United States. “(I’ve) always worked hard in building long-term partnerships between Americans from different backgrounds and denominations with the Middle East, promoting peace making, justice and development.”
The Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee has expressed interest in taking on Sayata’s case as a special project, Dr. Robert Younes of HCEF told the Daily Star. Younes is also working with the US Catholic Bishops’ Conference and various representatives in Congress to resolve Sayata’s case.
HCEF has also launched a campaign to help Sayata that harnesses the organizational capabilities of the Internet to reach supporters worldwide. Through emails and press releases HCEF has attracted the attention of the media and concerned individuals in the Middle East.
“He will not be able to visit the US and speak at our conferences and will not be able to act as an activist for the cause of the Christians in the Holy Land,” explained Younes, detailing the effects that Sayata’s detention will have on his work in the United States. “We will have lost a very effective spokesman for Christians living in the Holy Land.”
Sayata is the cofounder of HCEF, a Maryland-based non-profit organization established in 1999 to halt the exodus of indigenous peoples and improve the lives of the diminishing Christian population in the Holy Land by promoting solidarity between Christians living in the US and the Holy Land. It also seeks to inform Americans about the plight of Palestinians under Israeli rule.
Speaking about his own situation, Sayata drew parallels to the conflict in Israel and Palestine.
“I hope the political leaders would some day understand that security is a fruit of justice, and security will never come from any other measures,” said Sayata. “We had seen this and we are still witnessing it with the Israeli government in Palestine.”
Sayata has been outspoken in his criticism of Israel and its occupation policies. Immigration policies that have driven Christians and Palestinians out of their historic homeland have at the same time allowed more than a million Russian Jews to emigrate to Israel, according to Sayata. In an interview with Media Monitors in 2002 Sayata detailed the plight of both Palestinians and Christians and criticized the peace process for failing to deal with the actual issues.
“(The peace process is) not dealing with the real problem, the real issue, which is the brutal military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza by Israeli Defense Forces,” Sayata said in the interview, published online. “In 1948, the Christian population of the Holy Land was over 18%. In 1999 it is less than 2% (and) 700,000 Palestinians were displaced by the terror tactics of the Israelis in 1948, and tens of thousands more in the 1967 War,” he said. “Every day the situation becomes even more desperate.”
Note: As of Tuesday Father Sayata was allowed back into the United States after more than 20 days in Canada.
Posted By Courtney Radsch (Lebanon)
Posted Aug 13th, 2003