Khizr Khan, who energized the Democratic National Convention this past summer with the story of his son (an American soldier killed in Iraq) and attacks on Donald Trump, is back in the news again.
Earlier, some reports emerged that a speaking appearance than Khan had scheduled for Tuesday in Toronto had been canceled after he claimed that he would not be able to be at the event because he had been told his “traveling privileges” were “under review.”
But the State Department, U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the Transportation Security Administration have all pushed back on the story, raising the question of whether this is in fact an outrageous violation of an American citizen’s right to travel, or a deliberate hoax, or perhaps something else entirely.
This comes as President Trump released on Monday his new executive order revising the seven-nation (now six) travel ban.
In a statement published on the event organizer’s Facebook page, Khan was quoted as saying:
This turn of events is not just of deep concern to me but to all my fellow Americans who cherish our freedom to travel abroad. I have not been given any reason as to why. I am grateful for your support and look forward to visiting Toronto in the near future.
So the impression that Khan himself tried to convey is that he is being persecuted by the Trump administration in retaliation for his statements against President Trump.
Nearly immediately, the media began pushing the story out:
JUST IN: Gold Star father Khizr Khan cancels scheduled speech in Toronto after being told his "travel privileges are being reviewed." pic.twitter.com/3dXFMnjced
— Rosa Hwang | 황지연 | (@journorosa) March 6, 2017
Looking into reports that Khizr Khan canceled a Canada trip after having his travel privileges "reviewed." But nothing's confirmed right now pic.twitter.com/SM4wSoHmwH
— Vivian Yee (@VivianHYee) March 6, 2017
Some in the media commendably urged caution with the story:
As this goes viral: it's very much unclear what has actually happened. No details from anyone yet, including Khan. https://t.co/fgt9qn3tqG
— Daniel Dale (@ddale8) March 6, 2017
This Khizr Khan story sounds a little off. Would appreciate some more thorough reporting on this.
— ryan teague beckwith (@ryanbeckwith) March 6, 2017
Despite those cautions, national and international media have been running hard with the story:
— Los Angeles Times (@latimes) March 7, 2017
— POLITICO (@politico) March 6, 2017
— The Hill (@thehill) March 7, 2017
— CBC Toronto (@CBCToronto) March 7, 2017
Gold-star father and U.S. citizen Khizr Khan says he was informed his U.S. travel privileges are now under review.pic.twitter.com/tLuGemfprR
— AJ+ (@ajplus) March 7, 2017
To their credit, some of those reports noted that these claims were all based on Khan’s representations with no other confirmation, and that Khan himself was offering no further comment beyond the statement published by the event organizer:
— Slate (@Slate) March 6, 2017
After launching this incendiary claim, it seems that Khizr Khan has now circled the wagons:
Important to note: Mr. Khan hasn't said why his "travel privileges" are under review. When we reached out to him, he had no further comment.
— Rosa Hwang | 황지연 | (@journorosa) March 6, 2017
Asked Khizr Khan several simple, clarifying Qs via email. He got back, saying only "Thank you – no comments." I'd stay away from this story
— Domenico Montanaro (@DomenicoNPR) March 6, 2017
And the State Department pushed back on the story:
— Matthew Elliot (@matttbastard) March 6, 2017
And as The Daily Beast reports, so too did U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Transportation Security Administration:
Instead, The Daily Beast called Customs and Border Patrol. CBP spokespeople did not explain what happened to Khan, but brushed away the notion that the father was told he could not go to Canada.
“We don’t do that. We’re not going to review… no, no,” Janice Mosher from U.S. Customs and Border Protection public affairs told The Daily Beast. “It’s not something we do.”
Mosher suggested that the Transportation Security Administration might have more information.
But a TSA spokesman directed The Daily Beast back to CBP. “That’s their slim lane,” Brian McNeal of the TSA said.
People for The American Way, where Khan is a board member, declined to comment as well. Attorneys at Dulles Justice, the immigration group Khan recently visited at the DC-area airport, also said they had no information to share.
A different CBP spokesperson, however, later replied to The Daily Beast by e-mail, saying that the agency does not give travelers a heads-up ahead of overseas trips. The agency does not discuss individual cases, he added.
There is at least one possible explanation:
Then, unprompted, he brought up the expedited screening program Global Entry.
“With respect to Global Entry or trusted traveler membership, CBP’s engagement is about the status of membership in the program, not any particular travel itself,” he said. “Of course, any U.S. citizen with a passport may travel without trusted traveler status. All individuals are subject to inspection departing or upon arrival to the United States.”
I suspect many Americans would agree that any retaliation against Mr. Khan, including a revocation of Global Entry membership, would be a shocking abuse of power and a display of petty politics.
But with Khan himself giving virtually no details and now giving no comment as U.S. government agencies appear to be pushing back on his claims, there are considerable gaps in the story so far.
Even in his statement he fails to reveal exactly who told him his “traveling privileges” were “under review.” And as many are noting, it’s not even clear what that means. And Khan himself is an immigration attorney, so he would be in a better position to ask the exact questions to clarify his status.
Another possibility is that this has nothing to do with U.S. authorities at all, but rather with Canadian immigration issues. But it is still unlikely that Canadian officials would call in advance of travel with nothing more than that “traveling privileges” were “under review.”
It should be noted that Khan was in Virginia just last night:
— Virginia Democrats (@vademocrats) March 5, 2017
And according to this, he is expected to appear in Iowa later this week:
So it would appear not to be a “no-fly” list issue as he continues to travel, presumably by air.
Is this, as mentioned above, a case of a grotesque abuse of power, a contrived hoax, or possibly something else? Until Khan himself is ready to talk and provide additional information, there’s nothing close to a definitive answer.