“Extreme Vetting”: Where Do We Draw the Line?


Two sisters from Colombia who flew into Massachusetts have been sent back to their home country after being detained at a Boston airport for nearly 36 hours, which included a hospital visit for the younger girl.

Dayana Gomez, 20, and Laura Gomez, 11, landed at the Logan International Airport last Wednesday to visit their mother and stepfather, currently residing in Lowell. The girls were immediately detained for questioning by US Customs and Border Protection (CBP). They were not allowed to see their mother, stepfather or an attorney during their questioning. Their mother, Otilia Gomez Lopez, was frantic and unaware of her children’s whereabouts. After spending hours in the international arrivals area, she finally spoke to CBP Wednesday night when the dog traveling with the sisters was allowed through but not the girls. She returned to the airport the next day with an immigration lawyer. But by then, her youngest daughter had been rushed to Massachusetts General Hospital with severe stomach pains. Only there were their mother and stepfather allowed to visit, but they were not allowed to use their cellphones, and a border agent stood guard outside the room the entire time.

After Laura was treated, she and sister were taken back to the airport for additional questioning. Last Friday, the two girls were packed up and shipped back to Columbia. No official reason has been given, although the agency released a statement on the incident. It reads in part:

“It is important to note that issuance of a visa or a visa waiver does not guarantee entry to the United States. A CBP officer at the port of entry will conduct an inspection to determine if the individual is eligible for admission under US immigration law.” Citing privacy laws, the CBP have not said why the sisters were detained for two days or why they were put on a flight back to Panama, where they’re expected to fly on to Colombia.

Attorney Heather Yountz, who volunteered to provide legal assistance to the girls, said that it was unlike anything she had ever seen before. She believes US Customs and Border Protection were concerned that the girls would stay in the States with their mother and not go back home, but disagrees with the assessment. The sisters, who are dual citizens of Colombia and Spain, have valid Spanish passports and had return tickets.

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