Homeland Security Is An Embarassment With The Way It Treats US Citizens At The Border

from the this-needs-to-stop dept

A few months back, we wrote about the horrific treatment by Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol agents of On the Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman and her friends and family at the border. They were all US citizens and yet were detained for many hours for no reason, had their electronics seized and were generally treated terribly. Homeland Security has refused to explain why it stopped them — though, the obvious answer is that they were Muslim. There is now a similar story from Ahmed Shihab-Eldin, the Emmy-nominated producer and host of Huffpost Live (full disclosure: he once had me on his show), discussing how he gets detained every time he returns to the country. This time, he was just coming back from the World Economic Forum at Davos, and he was given a document with a big X over his face and sent to a “special” line:

As he notes, the room was… full of “brown” people:

At the door, an Egyptian-American woman greeted me, “Al Salaam Aleykum,” she said. I reluctantly responded “Wa Aleykum Al Salam,” though I was hardly feeling at peace. The room was filled with rows of seats and several DHS officers with colorful folders (red, yellow, green, blue) lined up in front of them with passports and travel documents. The juxtaposition of the colorful folders with the rows of mostly brown people filling the seats was suspect in itself.

“Omar Mubarak… Juan Diaz… Sayed Hussain,” the officers called us one by one.

I couldn’t help but feel as though JFK itself was a bit racist.

And, just as Sarah and her family and friends discovered, despite being US citizens, DHS treats them all like criminals:

After a 14-hour trip, I wanted to stretch my legs. So I stood up, anxious to find myself back in the room, especially after having written to the DHS. “Take a seat,” the officer at the door sternly said to me. I told him I wanted to stretch my legs after the long flight. He told me I wasn’t allowed to stand up. You are also not allowed to use your phone or electronic equipment. I was also slightly surprised to find as many children in the room as there were cameras.

“Sir, I’m a U.S. citizen who wants to stand while being detained. Am I not allowed to stand?” I said, pointing to the Asian man and Pakistani woman standing with their toddler strapped to the man’s chest. Anyway, there were only two empty seats in the room with a capacity of 60.

“Sit down!” he repeated for the sixth time, and came and confiscated my phone, which I was using to try to text my coworkers who were waiting to share a car home.

Like Sarah, DHS won’t provide any information as to why he was detained. And it clearly wasn’t random, seeing as this is the third time in a row it has happened. While he has applied to have his name removed from the list, as we noted with the lawsuit involving Rahinah Ibrahim, DHS seems to have no interest in correcting its mistakes until forced to do so.

Frankly, this is disgusting. It’s sickening that we are treating American citizens this way as they attempt to return home. Homeland Security and the US government seem to have dropped all pretense of freedom if you happen to be brown, Muslim or have an Arabic name (and just imagine those who hit on all three). This is not what this country is supposed to stand for — and the fact that we now have two very similar stories from prominent journalists, and DHS continues to respond by saying absolutely nothing, is even more disgusting. With On the Media, they’ve been trying to pressure Congress to investigate the matter, but to date, no one in Congress seems to want to take on this issue, which is a real shame.

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Comments on “Homeland Security Is An Embarassment With The Way It Treats US Citizens At The Border”

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Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Yup, and while I guess they very much apply profiling, they certainly also treat innocent foreigners just coming in on a business or tourist trips like this (and worse). They do it to me as well. And once you’re flagged, it’ll happen every time. But I guess their goals is at least partly reached, because I certainly won’t visit again unless absolutely necessary (which turns out to be almost never, I can skip the occasional conference if they are held in the US).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Conferences

Of course, since many people think the same, conferences will start moving out of the USA, to other countries.

Which is great, since that makes it easier for citizens of these other countries to go to these conferences. When they happen in my country, they are often in a city which is an one-hour plane ride (plus the unavoidable one-hour “you are required to get to the airport early and sit in the lobby waiting”) for me.

Which is great, since making it easier to go to these conferences helps the technological advancement of these countries.

Anonymous Coward says:

quite some time ago – before 9/11 – on a holiday weekend i drove from new york, where i was doing a contract assignment, up through new england for my first ever visit there. not accustomed to small states, i got to maine before i expected to.

thinking it would be a nice experience to see a french canadian town, i drove up to saint-georges to look around. i had no idea the unpleasant experience i had ahead of me getting back into my homeland.

i vowed to never again cross our border, and i’ve been true to that vow. i’ve rolled right up to our border crossing points a couple of times and waved to those guys, but i’ll never again put myself at their mercy.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

As a very seasoned international traveller, I find it depressing that the average American would find “OK, I’ll roll over and never leave the country again” to be the perfectly acceptable response to this kind of thing.


You need to re-evaluate what rolling over is. You are the one rolling over… doing nothing to resist the second by second abuse of the 4th by the TSA. Had YOU any stature, then perhaps you would participate with the rest of us in refusing to interact with these services and watch their economies fall.

You have NO ROOM to speak!

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Sigh… would it kill you idiots to check who you’re talking to before ranting about random crap (hint: I don’t give a shit about your constitution for a reason that should be obvious if you click on my profile). Would it really kill you to look at facts before letting loose on yet another random fiction?

Even so, WTF are you talking about? I’m rolling over because I’m not letting the TSA’s antics impede my freedom to travel even when I do visit your nation? The TSA is an economy that profits from higher numbers of people travelling?

Huh? Are you really that stupid?

Richard (profile) says:

Re: Re:

thinking it would be a nice experience to see a french canadian town, i drove up to saint-georges to look around. i had no idea the unpleasant experience i had ahead of me getting back into my homeland.

Just think – if you hadn’t done that stupid “American Revolution” thing you could all be Canadians now – and you couold have done that trip without crossing the border.

Anonymous Coward says:

i just spoke of visiting the french-canadian town.

years before that i was working a contract gig in nashville, and caught the complaint of a scottish direct employee there talking about his treatment at the hands of our servents at the border.? i assumed the man was a kook and paid nearly no attention.? after i my own experience i realized i owe the scot an apology.

TasMot (profile) says:

Does anybody know...

when and where they are going to start setting up the detention camps? It was done once for US Citizens of Japanese decent. Now, since any “brown, Muslim or have an Arabic name” people are automatically suspicious, won’t TSA just start putting them under a watchful eye all in one place.

After all, then they won’t have to spend so much effort detaining them at airports they’ll already know who and where they are. /sarc

pegr (profile) says:

Why cooperate?

If you are an American returning to America, you have no requirement to answer any question. Why answer questions? Because you’ll get through quicker? Well, it seems folks who cooperate spend four hours getting jacked up. How much time do you save?

Just repeat, “I don’t answer questions.” Yes, they’ll go through your stuff with a fine-toothed comb, but at least you have the satisfaction of pissing every one of them off. They CANNOT refuse entry of an American into America!

Don’t take phones or computers with you, of course. Unless, perhaps, you wish to be “harmed” and like to sue the government (expensive and not very likely to work).

Or, perhaps, take an SD card filled with random data. Yes, they’ll take it and try to “decrypt” it. What fun! 😉

Talion says:

Re: Re: Why cooperate?

Uh, sure… they can can’t refuse you entry into America… but did you want to go home from the airport, or go to another extended interrogation?

America is a big place, you might get lost or misplaced somewhere you really don’t want to be if you piss off DHS. But hey, they didn’t refuse you entry. Now exit on the other hand…

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why cooperate?

There are situations where a US citizen can be (and has been) denied entry in to the US. There are, broadly, three classes of reasons why this can happen:

1) People who hold certain dual citizenships. When this happens, it’s usually the result of marriage to a citizen of another nation where marriage automatically makes you a citizen of the other nation. Immigration agents can view this as an effective renunciation of US citizenship even when that’s not the intention. This is rare, but is increasing in frequency as the amount of data required for passengers traveling increases. An example of how this can go wrong is on flights back from TLV a dual Israeli/US citizen is logged in the system as having entered Israel on an Israeli passport, but entering the US on a US passport.

2) lacking the proper paperwork for reentry. Be sure you have your visa/passport!

3) Being intoxicated. It is illegal to enter the US when you’re intoxicated (a fact that totally amazes me). When faced with an intoxicated person, inspectors have two choices: allow them entry and arrest them as soon as they enter, or deny them entry. Most inspectors choose the latter.

mike (user link) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why cooperate?

to reply to your answer.
#1. The U. S. Customs and Border Protection does not care about care about the passport you travel on. Only about the one you entry on.

#2. This is very true even if the airline let you board with a expired U.S.Passport they still let you in.

#3. Being intoxicated. It is not illegal to enter the US by air so you’re wrong about this one. Only if you intoxicated driving and CBP turn people over to the local police.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why cooperate?

because You Still need to prove to TSA that you are an American to gain Entry to the US, Don’t expect your accent will help you inside the US is over 4000 accents, Don’t expect your Drivers License to help you that could be forged.

The do not presume you are a US citizen until proven other-wise. You can easily be turned back, more likely is an Indefinite Detainment while the Majestic Wheels of Officialdom turn and turn and TSA determine whether you are wanted for anything, or a terrorist, only then, will they check if you are an American, If you have gotten a passport at some stage of your life, they will recognize your citizenship a bit sooner, I hope anyone at their mercy Know how to meditate.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Why cooperate?

That presumes that you can get to an ocean and borders and visa requirements can get in the way. From Uzbekistan, the nearest ocean requires crossing at least two borders, entering Afghanistan and then Iran or Pakistan; or via Turkmenistan to Iran. Or you can go round the Caspian sea, or by boat across it after entering Kazakhstan, to enter Russia and reach the Black sea, where you should be able to start a boat journey back to America, via various ports. Or how about via Kyrgyzstan to China a to reach the pacific for a boat home.

Mr Pond. says:


Land of the free. Take a look around you & tell me if you think that’s really true any more.

I visited the US years ago & had a fantastic time, loved the people & very welcoming, friendly atmosphere. Since the TSA bullshit started I refuse to visit, which is a shame as it really is one of my favourite countries in which to have a holiday.

Friends, sort your government out. It’s actively oppressing you.

AricTheRed says:

Re: Unbelievable.

It is on my to do lis, but like others here I’m too lazy to really do anything about it other than gripe on the internets.

To do list attached:

1. Teach new puppy that only the world outside the house is his toilet.

2. Organize “Clean” garage so I can park the $20k car in it instead of safely storing garbage out of rain.

3. Snipe that sweet old hand tool off ebay for less than $300 that will then be stored in the garage.

4. Sort out government.

Anonymous Coward says:

i dont know why you think it’s disgusting to treat US citizens in this way, it’s disgusting to treat ANYONE in this way and shows how near we are to a complete police state! when officers of what is supposed to be a customs agency, what right have any of them to tell a person they cannot stand? it’s getting out of hand, people and needs to be stopped!! all of the security agencies have the same attitude but are the first to decry treatment like this when it’s against them at the customs checkpoint of another country! pot and kettle yet again!!

RocRizzo (profile) says:

DHS is not an embarrassment...

They are an abomination!

The whole thing should be disbanded. If you look at the money, you will find that the full body scanners that are used by airports comes from a company that was started by the former head of DHS, Michael Chertoff.

This tells me that the DHS was only formed to rip off the public, and put the money into the pockets of corporate cronies. It also tells me that they want the public to be more fearful of things, so that they can further monitor their whereabouts, in an attempt to further control them.
Get rid of them, and replace them with something more constructive.

Ben Franklin said, “He who sacrifices freedom for security deserves neither.” We are sacrificing freedom for security here in the US, so therefore we deserve neither!

Anonymous Coward says:

All of this rhetoric comes from the same people who stand on their soap boxes at Thanksgiving dinner faulting the government (and their “lazy government employees”) for not protecting you from 9/11, or whatever other disastrous tragedy you chose to reference. Then, as soon as your subject to this increased security/scrutiny that you so fervently demanded of your government, you cry foul and want a lawyer. Sorry they don’t rub your shoulders and pat you on the back when they inspect you…grow up. If you’re immigrant and don’t like it here, leave. If you’re a native and don’t like it here, catch up with the former. Ridiculous that all I read is cry babies who are like middle school adolescents. Crossing the border isn’t supposed to feel like an amusement park. It’s about securing this country from bad things and bad people. Period.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re:

All of this rhetoric comes from the same people who stand on their soap boxes at Thanksgiving dinner faulting the government (and their “lazy government employees”) for not protecting you from 9/11

Wow! Do you have access to some kind of information about all of these commenters? It’s hard to see how you could know this to be true.

I, for one, never actually faulted the government for failing to stop 9/11. I do fault the government for turning into a tyrannical state as a result of it, though.

RocRizzo (profile) says:

Re: Re:

It wasn’t “lazy government employees” who did not protect us from 9/11, it was the Bush Crime Syndicate, who was warned of it at least a month prior to it occurring, and then doing NOTHING.
Personally, I believe that they let it happen, so that they could start this stuff, and turn this country into a Police State!

coward (anon) says:

Not just "brown" people

Not to minimize the problem of racial profiling, but this behavior of Customs folks is nothing new. My daughter went to Canada on a high school field trip. Had a great time, got her first tattoo (she was too young to get one in the US). This was before 9/11 and Homeland Security’s existence. She was stopped at the border and denied entrance to the US for almost an hour because, according to the Customs inspector, her middle name was misspelled on her passport. Her middle name is Caitlin, a traditional Irish name. But the inspector insisted that it is spelled Kaitlin. My daughter is 6 foot, blond, thin and blue-eyed. If Sweden had a history of female terrorists, she would fit the profile. But she was pulled out of line and hassled for a “misspelled” middle name.

Customs and HLS have always been populated with “little hitlers” as my grandmother used to say. People who get off on asserting what little authority they actually have. And the system is rigged to let them get away with it.

Anonymouis says:

Re: Not just "brown" people

You couldn’t be more wrong. These guys have a job to do and no one, NO ONE, ever wants to be subject to it. Everyone has a story (albeit 75% fabricated and 25% truth) about how they were mistreated, had their car taken apart bolt by bolt (which does NOT happen), etc. But it’s like anything in this country, damned if you do and damned if you don’t. If your daughter, god forbid, had been abducted and a human trafficker, who was also a foreigner and spoke English as second language, created a fraudulent document to smuggle her over the border, you would have been awfully happy that the agent stopped and question the passport. You probably would have been calling him/her a hero at that point. But all anyone ever looks at is the negative aspect, the inconvenience, the “terror” of being looked at a little closer to determine that everything is on the up and up. It just baffles me. People talk about police state and internment camps. Yeah, I’ve read all of the conspiracy theories on the internet too but jesus, at some point you have to apply a little reason and logic, don’t you? If we’re such a terrible country who treats their citizens like garbage, why are we still the most sought out country by immigrants? Why, because the “American Dream” isn’t just a saying. The right wing is killing this country (not that the left wing is doing much better) and if they had it their way, there would be no government law enforcement, only social/welfare programs. Does any commenter on here have any idea what it’s like to be in a third world, lawless country with no law enforcement, or corrupt law enforcement at best? Well I do. I happen to have quite a bit of experience in that realm. You have no idea what you’re talking about and you’re watching too much right wing media. And frankly, it seems like our next generation is finally grown up and polluting the atmosphere with their “sense of entitlement” attitudes. The current generation loves to go around talking about how they “deserve” this and “deserve” that. It’s sad. There used to be a time when you had to work for what you had. Now all these unmotivated degenerates only want to work hard for “economic equality”, which to them means take from the guy/girl who actually got off their ass and made something of themselves, and give that to lazy, pot smoking, video game degenerate who has no work ethic or desire to achieve anything more than their minimum wage job. Oh yeah, and while you’re at it, raise their minimum wage by $3 per hour just because. Unbelievable. The folks with that mentality, who appear to be dangerously close to the majority, are going to be responsible for the disgusting degradation of this country. One more thing, can you please stop picketing and rallying to support all of the illegal immigrants here? There’s laws in place that govern how you can enter the country and they didn’t follow them.

Anonymous Coward says:

They asked me if I was on drugs...lol

I’m from Europe, the asked me if I was on drugs, they said the could keep me in the immigration room forever… they told me to shut the fuck up when I asked em a question why I was being questioned, next time that officer is goin to Europe I hope they catch his ass start asking him questions, punk ass bitch!

I never been this disrespected my whole life, EVERY time I go thru either Detroit or Dallas they’re asking me all those stupid questions, they even made me cry once….


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