An Oscar nominated Palestinian filmmaker and his family traveling to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards this Sunday were detained for hours at the Los Angeles International Airport by U.S. Customs officials.
Emad Burnat, whose film “5 Broken Cameras” has been nominated for Best Documentary Feature, was held for an hour and a half for questioning on why he was visiting Los Angeles.
“Although he produced the Oscar invite nominees receive, that wasn’t good enough & he was threatened with being sent back to Palestine,” said director Michael Moore in a tweet. Moore began relaying text messages he was receiving from Burnat to his 1.4 million followers on Twitter.
While we awaited Emad’s arrival from the airport - he and his family had already spent nearly six hours at an Israeli checkpoint as he was attempting to drive to Amman to catch their plane - I received an urgent text from Emad, written to me from a holding pen at the Los Angeles International Airport (LAX).
Here is what it said, in somewhat broken English:
“Urgent - I am in the air port la they need more information why I come here Invitation or some thing Can you help they will send us back If you late Emad”
I quickly texted him back and told him that help was on the way. He wrote back to say Immigration and Customs was holding him, his wife, Soraya, and their 8-year old son (and “star” of the movie) Gibreel in a detention room at LAX. He said they would not believe him when he told them he was an Oscar-nominated director on his way to this Sunday’s Oscars and to the events in LA leading up to the ceremony. He is also a Palestinian. And a olive farmer. Apparently that was too much for Homeland Security to wrap its head around.
“They are saying they are going to put us on the next plane back to Amman,” he told me.
I immediately contacted the Academy CEO Dawn Hudson and COO Ric Robertson, who in turn told Academy President Hawk Koch. They got ahold of the Academy’s attorney who is also partners with a top immigration attorney and they went to work on it. I called the State Department in DC.
I told Emad to give the Homeland Security people my name and cell number and to have them call me ASAP so I could explain who he was and why they should let him go.
After being held for somewhere between one and two hours, with repeated suggestions that the U.S. may not let him into the country - saying that they may send him back home - the authorities relented and released Emad and his family.
“Last night, on my way from Turkey to Los Angeles, CA, my family and I were held at US immigration for about an hour and questioned about the purpose of my visit to the United States. Immigration officials asked for proof that I was nominated for an Academy Award® for the documentary 5 BROKEN CAMERAS and they told me that if I couldn’t prove the reason for my visit, my wife Soraya, my son Gibreel and I would be sent back to Turkey on the same day.
“After 40 minutes of questions and answers, Gibreel asked me why we were still waiting in that small room. I simply told him the truth: ‘Maybe we’ll have to go back.’ I could see his heart sink.
“Although this was an unpleasant experience, this is a daily occurrence for Palestinians, every single day, throughout [t]he West Bank. There are more than 500 Israeli checkpoints, roadblocks, and other barriers to movement across our land, and not a single one of us has been spared the experience that my family and I experienced yesterday. Ours was a very minor example of what my people face every day.”
U.S. Customs officials are not commenting on the ordeal.
In a statement, U.S. Customs told ABC News that “due to privacy laws, U.S. Customs and Border Protection is prohibited from discussing specific cases. CBP strives to treat all travelers with respect and in a professional manner, while maintaining the focus of our mission to protect all citizens and visitors in the United States.”