Here is an account of a friend of mine. hAS ANY one out there experienced something similar to this?
On March 12, this year, Moses Maina Muchanga opened the door to his flat in Fortwal, Texas, and was confronted by three officers from the Internal Naturalisation Services - the US equivalent of the Immigration Department.
The 22-year-old aviation student at the Delta Qualiflight Aviation College was not amused at being woken up in the wee hours of a cold morning. He had wanted to know who the visitors were since he seldom had guests.
The questions from the stern officers were strange and annoying.
"They asked me what I knew about Jihad, why I had chosen the aviation course, who was paying the expensive fees and what crime we were planning with my 'fellow' Arabs," he says.
The last question was particularly baffling. A Kikuyu born in Nairobi's Karen, Maina is light-skinned and his hair has a natural curl. Even then, he thought it preposterous for anyone to mistake him for an Arab. But the officers insisted he was just another lying Arab fundamentalist.
They ordered him to accompany them to Euless, an INS holding for illegal immigrants. He was under arrest but unlike in Hollywood movies, nobody read him his rights or told him why he was being arrested.
After a night at Euless, he was moved to the Dallas Immigration Holding under tight security, his hands in cuffs, his legs in manacles.
It was at Dallas that he would have three charges read to him: He was not a US citizen; he was an illegal Kenyan immigrant; he lacked the I-94, a temporarily identity card for students.
A Dallas court bonded him for $10,000 (about Sh700,000) but he had no money. His pleas to be allowed to telephone his father back home or his college to raise the cash fell on deaf ears. He was detained for three days at the Dallas County Jail.
Still shackled, he was later moved in a truck to Haskell, some 450 kilometres from Dallas. His new lodging was a 12 by 14 foot cell meant for eight people - but it held double that number, mostly hard core criminals.
"Once you get in their jails, you realise you have been watching too many movies. In reality, they are not radically unlike ours. You sleep on the bare floor, breakfast is a slice of hard toast and wishy-washy juice. Lunch is a measly portion served at 11am. Supper, at 5 pm, is not any better."
The authorities decided to deport him. Maina was moved to a deportation centre where there were some 500 people, among them four Kenyans. Those scheduled for deportation were mainly black Muslims and Arabs.
Maina had made another tactical error: he had hired a black lawyer. Some Kenyans in the US heard of his ordeal and arranged for him to get one.
Maina claims racial discrimination is rife in Dallas and the rest of the Texas state. The judicial system was too condescending to his lawyer who was often treated as a co-accused. Judges listened to the lawyer with a sneer.
The authorities seemed to be preoccupied with fears that he would sneak back to Texas after deportation.
"After orders of my deportation, my father sent a North West Airlines ticket to Nairobi through Fedex on the April 25. But INS held on to the ticket, claiming that I planned to get off the plane at Detroit since the flight was not direct.
"They also retained another one from United Airlines, this time claiming I would alight at Michigan."
Only after he had secured a direct BA flight to Nairobi - on May 14 - was he allowed to go home. It meant his father spent Sh264,000 to bring his son home. The tickets that were not travelled on are not refundable.
But Maina, who already held a Private Pilot's Licence from the Kenya School of Flying, is very bitter. He says grounds for his arrests were spurious and only motivated by his "Arabic" looks and the fact he was doing aviation.
He claims INS officers had assured him that his I-94 form would be renewed "soon". Maina had informed them of its expiry two weeks before his arrest. He blames the officers' chicanery for not allowing him to pick his visa before arresting him. The visa was to expire in August this year and by then, he would have completed the 20 flight hours required for his commercial pilot's licence. He was not allowed back into his apartment for the document that carried proof that he was legally in the US.
Maina's father, Brown Muchanga, runs an aircraft equipment supplies company at the Wilson Airport, Nairobi. He plans to sue the American government for the ordeal his son went through.
He says that were it not for his lawyer, Patrick Lumumba, and the Foreign Affairs minister Kalonzo Musyoka, Maina would still be languishing in American jails.
Minister Musyoka personally wrote to the American government complaining about the treatment Maina received. The Kenyan embassy in Washington also did some lobbying on his behalf.
Muchanga is particularly bitter about the money spent on training that was not completed and is suing the US government for compensation.
Maina swears he will never set foot in America again. He claims that since September 11, Kenyan in the US have become susceptible to official harassment and humiliation. It is a fate they share with many blacks, Arabs and Hispanics.
Discrimination was rampant in the jail. "The white inmates would be allowed unlimited time and privacy with their visitors. But for blacks, an officer would be standing next to you, eavesdropping on your conversation and counting the seconds. Even your lawyer is not allowed talk with you in private."
Immediately after the black Tuesday, the euphemism for September 11, the US authorities sent out a circular to all aviation colleges instructing that all non-American students holding the Private Pilot Licences must re-sit the tests. This came after it was discovered that some of the terrorists who flew the hijacked planes had trained in the US. Maina's case was no exception. He re-sat the test, and paid Sh1million in the US.
Maina warns parents against falling for the allure of the US. He claims to have witnessed unprovoked ill-treatment of Kenyans in the US - meant to encourage them to leave.
"They think if you are not in America, you are finished. I am not going back and I look forward to a very bright life here in Kenya."