As It Happens

Disney vacation turns into US border nightmare

A Toronto emergency doctor says his family was unfairly singled out by U.S. border agents who turned a planned vacation to Disneyland into a three-hour ordeal.
Dr. Firas Al-Rawi is an emergency room doctor at Toronto General Hospital. (Courtesy of Firas Al-Rawi for As It Happens)

A Toronto emergency doctor says his family was unfairly singled out by U.S. border agents who turned a planned vacation to Disneyland into a three-hour ordeal.

Firas Al-Rawi and his wife and three kids were counting down the days to the family's first vacation to Disneyland, ever since he booked the tickets in December. But when they showed up at the airport on Family Day in February to check in for the flight, their vacation turned into a three-hour interrogation by U.S. border agents. 

Al-Rawi, who is an emergency doctor at Toronto General Hospital, says that he, his wife and children were fingerprinted and had their computers, phones and iPads confiscated and searched.  Then, after three hours of questioning, the US officials escorted the family out of the airport.   

"They were parading us like we were a flock of sheep," Al-Rawi tells As it Happens host Carol Off.

Al-Rawi says that the border officials told him that his family was being denied entry into the U.S. because they were not satisfied that they planned to return to Canada — despite the fact that he owns a Toronto home and has a full-time career at a major hospital.

Al-Rawi says the family also felt pressured into giving up the passwords to all their electronic devices.

"You're in such a situation where you know by law that you can say no. But then at the same time, if you don't give them your passwords, they're not going to let you continue your travels. And we were still hopeful."

Al-Rawi, who is a Canadian citizen of Iraqi origin, says he still doesn't know why his family was singled out.

"It's almost like they had made up their mind as soon as they saw us," he says. 

The incident happened on Februrary 16th and Al-Rawi says he still has no answers from U.S. border officials about if or when his family will have their computers and phones returned. He also doesn't know if the stamps in their passports showing that they were refused entry will affect their travel in the future.  

"The whole experience was very traumatic."

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