An American student stranded abroad by the government's no-fly list has walked across the U.S. border instead in order to get home. KNSD-TV's Tony Shin reports.
An American student who discovered he was included on the government’s no-fly list and was barred from a U.S.-bound flight from Costa Rica was reunited with family and friends after he flew to Mexico and then walked across the U.S.-Mexico border Thursday evening.
Kevin Iraniha, 27, was met at the San Ysidro crossing south of his home in San Diego by his father and two brothers as well as some supporters and reporters after a two-day delay that included FBI questioning and rerouting his trip through Mexico City and Tijuana.
"I'm happy to be home, finally in my hometown where I was born and raised," Iraniha told NBC San Diego, but he added that what happened to him "was very tiring and very depressing."
"Obviously he was relieved to see his family, to be back in San Diego, home. It was quite an emotional moment to see him for his family for his friends," said Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a nonprofit civil rights group.
Iraniha had recently completed a master’s degree program in Costa Rica. He had celebrated his graduation with his father and brothers, but was stopped on Tuesday when he tried to check in for his flight.
Iraniha is a practicing Muslim whose father was born in Iran. He said he was questioned extensively by FBI agents at the U.S. Embassy in San Jose about his religious beliefs, practices and affiliations, and about his recent travels to destinations including Iran, where he has relatives.
Kevin Iraniha, after earning a masters degree in international law in Costa Rica, poses with his brothers Jahan, left, Shervin, second from left, and his father, Nasser, right. When he tried to return home to the United States, the San Diego native was barred from U.S.-bound flights.
He was not told why he was placed on the no-fly list, according to Mohebi, but was told he could return to the United States by alternative means.
Iraniha's brothers and father all were allowed to board aircraft flying directly to the United States.
Citing the U.S. Privacy Act and security reasons, the FBI will not confirm nor deny an individual’s inclusion on the no-fly list, which is intended to safeguard U.S. aviation. More than 20,000 individuals are on the list, including about 500 U.S. citizens, according to the FBI’s Terrorist Screening Center, which maintains the list. These individuals are barred from all domestic flights and international flights that enter U.S. air space.
Mohebi said that Iraniha was staying out of the public eye for a few days as he recovers from the ordeal and decides how to proceed.
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There are currently two major lawsuits challenging the federal government on its use of the no-fly list, its lack of transparency and an apparent lack of recourse for people who find themselves restricted by it.
"Now that he is safely home, we can discuss the larger issue of how it is that people get onto that list," said Mohebi. "If an individual is dangerous enough that he should not be flying, shouldn’t he be arrested, brought to court, tried and prosecuted? And if this individual is dangerous enough not to fly (to the United States), why should he be allowed to fly to other countries … and drive in or walk across the border?"
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