Carina Yonzon Grande with grandson Josh and future son-in-law Ken Shaw in this photo taken in March 2012 in Solvang, California
MANILA - A Filipina's trip to the United States to attend the wedding of her daughter turned into a nightmare after she was harassed, insulted, and deported by American immigration authorities.
Carina Yonzon Grande, in a statement to ABS-CBNNews.com, recalled her harrowing experience at the hands of US Immigration officers at the Seattle International Airport on October 1.
Grande was traveling with complete valid documents -- a passport with a 10-year US visa valid until 2017, round trip plane tickets, and even shuttle vouchers.
The 63-year-old, who used to work for the Asian Development Bank, is well traveled and has been to Italy, Austria, Germany, Belgium, Switzerland, Vanuatu, Fiji, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, Pakistan, Australia, Hong Kong, and Singapore.
It was her 13th time to visit the US in a span of more than two and a half decades.
She said, upon reaching the immigration area, she noticed a group of immigration police officers directing people to where they should line up.
"I also observed police officers questioning, in a very loud voice, the visitors about why they chose to travel to the US for their vacation, the purpose of their visit, and even the amount of money they have for this trip, which I found simply absurd!" Grande said.
"When it was my time to present myself to the immigration officer, he asked me the usual questions i.e. purpose of travel and length of stay. I gave him an honest answer: that the purpose of my travel to the US was to visit my grandson Joshua at Everett and also to attend my daughter's wedding on October 26 in L.A., and that I was staying for two months," she added.
She said the immigration officer looked at her passport and saw Grande had visited the US many times in the past.
"I confirmed by saying yes, since the family could afford it," she added.
Held for 6 hours without food, water
Her nightmare began when the immigration officer told her to go to a room where people were being held for more questioning.
Grande said she was confined in the small room for 6 hours.
"Questions about the purpose of my visit to the US were asked repeatedly by Officer Keavid Mam (in a very arrogant manner). He then asked if I have relatives in the US, which I answered in the affirmative. I was asked to give names and corresponding contact numbers. I gave the details of my daughter Steph and my grandson Josh, 21 years old. I was asked for more names, so I gave the name and number of my Aunt Nerissa, who is nearly 90 years old and the sister of my late Mother. More names and numbers could have been provided to them had they allowed me to call my daughter Steph but I was not allowed to make phone calls. They took my celfone. Every time they placed a call to my aunt, my grandson Joshua and daughter Steph, they shut the door so I would not hear their conversations with my relatives," she said.
The immigration officer then returned to the room and accused Grande of being a liar. He claimed that he talked to her aunt, who allegedly told him that Grande will take care of her as a caregiver.
She said the immigration officer's allegations are not true because her aunt didn't even know she was arriving in the US.
"While Officer Mam kept on repeating his questions about why I was in the US, a fellow officer by the name of Chang, joined and shouted, calling me a liar. He even searched my purse where I had wedding cards (with money) for my daughter and future son-in-law, and a birthday card for Joshua (also with money) and other stuff. He scattered all the items in my purse on the table, asking why they should believe me, when my aunt, according to him, seems to be the honest one," Grande said.
'Who is she, a TNT?'
"While doing this, another officer passed and shouted 'Who is she, a TNT?'" she said.
"I was already shaking, very tired, exhausted, and weak. I had not eaten because of this interrogation," she added.
Their supervisor, a certain Mr. Caldwell, later joined the immigration officers and warned Grande that she will suffer the consequences if she didn't tell them what they wanted to hear.
"If I lie, they would have to arrest me and put me in jail. He even showed me the jail cell. I said, 'I am telling the truth, and that they can put me in jail because I will never ever admit doing the things I am wrongly being accused of.'"
Caldwell gave Grande two options: be deported to the Philippines on the next flight of the same day or be put in jail and barred from entering the US for 5 years.
"Exhausted, hungry, and sleep-deprived, I chose option one," Grande said. "It is disheartening that at my age, I didn’t receive any respect from these officials. I was treated like a criminal. I was not allowed to talk to my daughter and grandson and my celfone was taken away from me. Even after the interrogation concluded, they did not give it back to me."
"It pains me so much that I was mistreated like this. I have never been so humiliated and demeaned in my life! I am still hurting and hope other people will not suffer the extreme humiliation I recently experienced," she said.
Ken Shaw, the fiancé of Grande's daughter, supported her statement.
"She was cruelly interrogated for 6 hours after a 15-hour flight and held without food and water. Derogatory racial slang was hurled her way and she was shown and threatened with a jail cell. Her belongings were careless rifled through, wedding cards and gifts from relatives for the couple plainly visible throughout this process," Shaw said in a separate statement sent to ABS-CBNNews.com.
"She was repeatedly called a liar and laughed at by individuals who seemed to believe that they have an exclusive license on the truth and that tormenting an elderly woman, exhausted from a long flight, was all in a day’s good sport," he said.
Shaw said an immigration officer even mocked Grande's daughter on the telephone.
"An arrogant official promptly addressed her by her first name and cockily said, "Well hello, your mother is being deported."
"After piously stating their righteousness, the official ended the conversation with yet another smirk and additional smarmy commentary," Shaw added.
"I have tried a couple of times since then to get the full names of the individuals who handled my future mother-in-law’s case, but apparently they are special and do not need to disclose information to the American public," he said.
"My fiancée is now heart broken – not only for her mother having to miss her wedding but also for the cruel treatment she was forced to endure by the government of the country she now calls home," Shaw said.