Julian Ichim made his second trip to Ireland last November to gather information for his blog and radio show as well as attend the Ar Fhies of the 32 County Sovereignty Movement (32CSM) as an international guest.
But ten days later, when he tried to board a flight home from Ireland to Canada, he was detained and interrogated multiple times by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).
The 32CSM, an Irish republican group, is a pressure group with branches throughout the traditional counties of Ireland. Republicans want to leave the United Kingdom and join a united Ireland.
Their goal is to restore Irish national sovereignty, promote the revolutionary ideals of republicanism, resist all forms of colonialism and imperialism and the immediate and unconditional release of all Irish republican prisoners.
It’s also been branded a foreign terrorist organization in the U.S., since the Americans consider the 32CSM to be part of the Real IRA, an organization they’ve also classified as a foreign terrorist organization.
However, the 32CSM denies any connection with the Real IRA.
In an interview in downtown Toronto on Tuesday, Ichim explained that while in Ireland he was having internet connection problems.
“Being able to connect over here (in Canada),” he said. “People not getting my messages. The place where I was staying the phone and the internet went out and we weren’t given a very good explanation. So I had some worries.”
The day of his departure, Ichim said he caught a bus from Belfast to Dublin to catch his flight home to Canada. He passed through customs without incident. But at the U.S. pre-clearing, he was pulled out of line and put in a room with four other passengers.
“I thought it had something to do with my criminal conviction which is assault from throwing chocolate milk on Stockwell Day in 2000,” said Ichim. In the meantime, his luggage was being inspected by U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers.
“I saw that they were making photocopies of stuff and they asked me about my assault conviction.” Ichim confirmed the assault conviction as well as his arrest and conspiracy charges during the G20 summit in Toronto in 2010. Those charges were later dropped.
Then they informed Ichim that he appeared to be inadmissible under INA 212 (a) (3) (B) (i) (II).
(It was only after he returned home that he discovered he was inadmissible under the terrorism-related inadmissibility grounds in INA 212.)
“Which I think is ludicrous,” he said. Ichim then told the officers that if he wasn’t allowed to get on the plane, he wanted his luggage back so he could leave. “Which is a reasonable thing.”
But the officers didn’t see things Ichim’s way. They told him that he was being detained and wouldn’t let him contact a lawyer.
Ichim wasn’t on a direct flight from Dublin to Toronto. He said the flight he was booked on was either travelling through U.S. airspace or making a stopover in the U.S. on its way to Toronto.
Later, Ichim was put in a room by himself, fingerprinted, photographed. He was interrogated by an officer with the U.S. DHS. Ichim refused to answer any questions and stated that “he believed his refusal of admission to the U.S. constituted political persecution.”
“I just responded to everything with ‘no comment,’” he said. “They kept on ripping up the questions and asking them over and over again.”
Documents given to Ichim revealed that most of the questions centred around his date of birth, height, weight, eye colour and so on.
“I knew the whole thing was an intimidation tactic,” he said. Five and a half hours later, DHS turned Ichim over to Immigration, who told him they couldn’t extend his visa and he had to be out of the country in the next two days.
So Ichim went on Facebook to let people know what was going on. After that, he bought a ticket and left Dublin the next day.
“I can assure you that I’m not engaging in terrorism,” said Ichim. “Only political activism and to find out what the reality was in the occupied six counties.”
Ichim said was prevented from bringing back information he’d collected from interviews with people during his stay in Ireland. Interviews with women about the impact of having their husbands detained and interned. Interviews with people about how they felt having the Loyalists, mostly Protestants who want Northern Ireland to remain within the United Kingdom, march around at 7 pm every night chanting “racist” songs.
“Asking them what it’s like to live under a stage of siege,” said Ichim, adding that he is sympathetic to the 32CSM and the idea of a united Ireland. “They’re not illegal in Canada, Ireland or Britain.”
In Canada, Ichim said that sympathy for Irish Republicans and the 32 CSM is growing. In July 2014, when a delegation from the 32 CSM traveled to Canada to take part in a six-day-long speaking tour, they were detained and refused entry into the country.
“I think that was an attempt to censor the message of the 32 CSM that the occupation still exists, Loyalist collusion is still going on and the violence is still there,” he said.
After his run-in with the DHS in November, Ichim remains more determined than ever to get the message out and organize here in Canada. In the past, he and his colleagues have arranged letter writing nights to Irish POW’s and pickets and occupations of the British Consulate.
Since his return to Canada, Ichim alleged that he’s been surveilled electronically and in-person.
“It means we’re doing something right if they’re using all these pressure tactics to stop us,” he said. “We have a right to our politics and shouldn’t be afraid to meet publicly.”
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