An Egyptian Muslim and former exchange student at Heartland Community College said he is disillusioned by mixed messages he's receiving from the United States.
Mohammed Mahmoud planned to spend Thanksgiving with friends in Bloomington-Normal. But he was denied entry to the U.S. when his plane landed in Chicago recently.
Mahmoud said he's not sure why he was denied admission, though it could be because he recently finished a job in Dubai and has no other work at the moment. He also did not have a return ticket.
"I told them already that I’m going to Trinidad and Tobago for the carnival, and I was waiting for my friends’ confirmation. I have a couple of friends from Milwaukee who are crazy about music just like I am, and we were planning to go together. I even asked if I can buy the ticket right at that time since they had my phone and passport but he refused. The officer told me 'You are here to live and work' and I was like how am I going to leave my wife and son behind?" said Mahmoud.
Mahmoud came to know Bloomington-Normal during a State Department program in which he completed an IT degree.
Carol Weisheit hosted Mahmoud when he was in the program and said he was fully vetted before he was put into it.
"This is just so frustrating to me because I think we are supposed to be a land where you can come and visit if they have friends from previous experiences over here. It saddens me that we have come to this, that simply because he is Muslim he gets turned away," said Weisheit.
Weisheit said Mahmoud has visited Bloomington-Normal since completing his IT degree at Heartland Community College and had no problems.
"It makes me wonder whether the policy is being applied consistently," said Weisheit.
Weisheit noted Thanksgiving is a national holiday, not a Christian one. She said the incident paints America as a place people might not want to come when they hear these things.
"They told him, 'If you are a Muslim, why are you celebrating a Christian holiday?' How can people think that Thanksgiving is a Christian holiday?" said Weisheit.
Thanksgiving is a national holiday, not a religious one.
Mahmoud was sent to Egypt and not allowed to have his passport until he got off the plane there.
Mahmoud said his friends criticized his scholarship program and he had to fight with them to claim America is not like what the media shows.
"But it seems that I am the one who was wrong. I can assure you that I will never ever try to come back again. I have worked and helped in the community believing in what was taught to us without waiting for a payback, but I’m sure no one will ever go to a place where he is not welcomed," said Mahmoud.
The government typically does not make the reasons for denial of entry public, though there is a petition those affected can file to see the stated cause.
WGLT depends on financial support from users to bring you stories and interviews like this one. As someone who values experienced, knowledgeable, and award-winning journalists covering meaningful stories in central Illinois, please consider making a contribution.