A couple hoping to be reunited for the holidays in Chicago now find themselves separated by 14,000 miles after Nkosinathi Gama was barred from entering the United States last weekend.
Gama and Rachel Perkins have been together for two years ever since meeting on a mission trip in southern Africa in 2018.
“I fell in love with Rachel the first day I saw her,” Gama said.
“He’s a great person. He’s the love of my life,” Perkins added.
That’s why Perkins was excited to welcome Gama back to Chicago for a holiday visit. Gama, who lives in Eswatini, a southern African nation formerly known as Swaziland, was stopped by U.S. Customs and Border Protection at O’Hare International Airport on Saturday.
Perkins waited for him for nearly five hours at the airport, questioning Border Protection agents about what was happening during that time.
“The officer that we spoke to came out to us and said I don’t want you to stand here and waste your time anymore,” she said. “He is not going to be allowed to enter the country today.”
Gama said after an officer searched his phone, his social media and his luggage, she told him something that shocked him.
“I don’t trust you. I think you just want to immigrate here,” he said. “I was like ‘why? Because I was just here, last year I visited, and I went back home.’”
Perkins says the officer gave Gama an ultimatum.
“To willingly relinquish his visa or be banned from the United States for 5 years,” Perkins said. “So, Nathi gave up his visa.”
“I’ve never felt that pain I felt after she told me that,” Gama added.
Gama said he felt he was targeted at the airport.
“I felt like it was because of my skin color. Because why would you not want me in if I have legal documents,” he said.
In a statement, U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials say that U.S. law allows them to inspect electronic devices at the border, saying that doing so is “integral to keeping America safe in an increasingly digital world.”
“CBP has established strict guidelines to ensure that these searches are exercised judiciously, responsibly and consistent with the public trust, in accordance with statutory and regulatory authorities and applicable judicial precedent,” CBP said in a statement, in part. “CBP expects its employees to conduct their duties in a professional manner and to treat all members of the public with dignity and respect.”
Meanwhile, Perkins said she now has an immigration attorney to help them figure out what is next for the couple.
“Nathi and I are now part of a huge community, a community of people who have experienced heartbreak by corrupt and unjust systems,” said Perkins. “It’s not fair and he did not deserve this.”
Perkins says the couple is now applying for a fiancé visa, so they can be together again.