A British woman has said her honeymoon was ruined after she was held in detention for 26 hours by US border officials before being sent back to the UK.
Natasha Politakis said she and her husband, Ali Gul, were barred from entering the US after flying to Los Angeles to begin their £7,000 honeymoon.
She said the US embassy had since refused to say why she and Gul, who is of Turkish Muslim origin, were stopped by border guards in May.
The couple, who live in Enfield, north London, had planned to travel on to Hawaii. Gul, 32, had applied for a visa though the US embassy in London, having previously being turned down for a visa for a different trip after applying through Esta, the usual application system for travelling to the US for less than 90 days.
Despite being issued by the embassy with a visa valid for 10 years, Gul was stopped when he arrived at LAX.
“It was for no reason,” said Politakis. “We tried to talk to the embassy but they said just go on the website and there was no explanation there. We had visas, we had everything. We were treated like criminals.”
She said they were not told how long they would be held for. “It’s a long time, and it feels like forever when you are in there. No one tells you anything and then they said to us: ‘You’re not going to Hawaii, you’re going to be flown back on the first flight tomorrow.’ They escorted us on to the flight. They wouldn’t give us our phones or our passports until we were back in the UK”
Family members became concerned when they did not hear from them long after they had been due to arrive in Honolulu. “My brother rang the embassy to say ‘where are they? They are meant to be in Hawaii, and no one has heard from them.’”
Politakis, 29, said she would not travel to the US again. “I’m too scared now, after what happened. I’ve never been in trouble or anything before. All our friends and family are shocked.”
Gul, who was born in Turkey, was travelling on a British passport.
Under Donald Trump’s presidency there have been a series of controversies over US visas for foreigners. Trump has faced criticism for introducing strict criteria for visa applicants from Muslim-majority countries.
The introduction of a travel ban shortly after Trump’s inauguration in January led to chaos at airports around the world. After a judge blocked the original ban, the president issued a scaled-down order.
New visa applicants from Syria, Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Iran and Yemen must prove a personal relationship with a family member already in the US.
British citizens face difficulties getting a US visa if they have travelled to Libya, Iran, Iraq, Somalia, Sudan, Syria or Yemen since March 2011.
Politakis said the couple had never had any difficulty travelling abroad before. “We’ve travelled to so many countries together. Neither of us have ever been to America before. This was the first time we were going, for our honeymoon, and then all this happened.”
After being sent back to the UK, the couple decided to fly to Mexico for their honeymoon instead.
A spokesperson for the US embassy declined to comment specifically on the case, but said there were “more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility divided into several major categories, including health-related, prior criminal convictions, security reasons, public charge, labour certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
They said it was down to applicants to prove they were eligible to enter the US.