The Obama administration is not saying why a British Muslim family of 11 was barred from flying to Disneyland last week, in a case that has drawn international attention and vows of a review from the U.K. government.
However, an official with Customs and Border Protection rejected any suggestion that religion was a factor, and stressed there are dozens of legal reasons why someone can be prohibited from entering the U.S.
“In order to demonstrate that they are admissible, the applicant must overcome all grounds of inadmissibility,” the CBP spokesman said in a statement. “[Federal law lists] more than 60 grounds of inadmissibility divided into several major categories, including health-related, prior criminal convictions, security reasons, public charge, labor certification, illegal entrants and immigration violations, documentation requirements, and miscellaneous grounds.”
The administration may be limited in what it can say about the case due to privacy laws, but the statement has done little to soothe tensions over the family’s situation.
British Prime Minister David Cameron’s office said Wednesday they plan to look into the case, as the family takes their complaints to the media.
Mohammed Zahid Mahmood said he and his family — two brothers and their nine children — were told nothing at the London airport except that they were not allowed to travel to the U.S. despite having previously obtained clearance.
"We were the only family that was of Asian, Muslim, sort of appearance, and it seemed a little bit embarrassing that only we were taken out (of the line to board)," he told the BBC.
Their California relative, Muhammad Tahir Mahmood, revealed to the BBC that he prayed at the same mosque as one of the San Bernardino terrorists, but said he didn’t know him.
It’s unclear if that was a factor in the London incident. Muhammad Tahir Mahmood told the BBC “there needs to be a reason given.”
The family suggested they were stopped because of their name.
CBP and the Department of Homeland Security did not respond directly when asked if it’s possible the incident could be tied to a name mix-up.
Spelling flaws and confusion in the system have been flagged before. In a case of an individual wrongly slipping through the system, a congressional report last year found that Boston Marathon bomber Tamerlan Tsarnaev was not pulled aside when he returned from a trip to Russia because his name was misspelled in a security database.
The London incident comes amid controversy over GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s call to temporarily ban Muslims from visiting the U.S., an idea that drew bipartisan criticism in the U.S. and abroad.
The Muslim Council of Britain said the last-minute denial of boarding privileges without explanation is distressing for Muslims.
"There is a perception that such decisions are being made due to the faith or political activism of individuals," the council said.
But the CBP spokesman said, “The religion, faith, or spiritual beliefs of an international traveler are not determining factors about his/her admissibility into the U.S.”
He said: “U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) welcomes more than a million passengers arriving to the United States every day. CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.