Palestinian family detained, denied entry at O’Hare Airport
Last Friday, airport security officials at Chicago O’Hare International Airport reportedly detained a Palestinian family of three for two days before sending them on a return flight to Palestine through Amman Queen Alia International Airport, according to local immigration lawyer Osamah Odeh.
The mother, father and their baby were attempting to visit an elderly relative in Chicago, whom they’ve been unable to see for nearly 20 years due to travel restrictions and issues with their visas.
According to Odeh, upon pleading to see her detained relatives, airport security officials did not allow the relative access to the room in which the family members were being held. In addition, while being detained the family was denied access to their child’s milk, medication for the mother, and proper, sufficient meals.
After two days, the family was forced to finance their own flight back to Amman, as well as tickets to ride on a congested bus system for twelve hours over Allenby Bridge into the West Bank.
“The family wasted money on ticket purchases back and forth, costs of coming into Jordan from Palestine to travel to the U.S., and costs of purchasing expensive gifts. They also lost wages for not being able to go back to work, costs of travel which totaled over $8,000,” Odeh said, in reference to the family’s previous travel attempts.
According to Odeh, airport security officials have full discretion over denying or permitting entry for travelers coming into the U.S. if they claim to have reason to believe that the travelers will stay past the duration of their visa. This is usually based on whether the traveler has strong ties to their home country, whether they have sufficient funds to fund their travel, and whether security officials have reason to believe the traveler will be employed illegally to offset costs of travel while in the U.S.
“Essentially the traveler is under interrogation, and they have to convince the officers that they will not overstay,” Odeh said.
Odeh also admits he has been contacted by more than 10 families in the past few months, a situation that seems to be getting worse for Palestinian and Palestinian-American travelers. While a traveler normally contacts their consulate to ensure their rights be protected, Palestinian travelers are essentially stateless according to the United States government and therefore have limited access to powers like these. The Palestinian Liberation Organization Delegation in Washington D.C. effectively handles consular affairs, and they have the authority to file complaints with a congressional committee about mistreatment of Palestinian travelers who arrive at U.S. ports-of-entry.
“Other organizations such as the [Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee] and [Council on American-Islamic Relation] may have an interest in the outcome of this case,” Odeh said.
Palestine in America will not release the names of the travelers, in hopes of protecting the identities of the family detained.