A few weeks ago, we were among many who were stunned
to hear the story of On the Media
producer Sarah Abdurrahman on the show about how she, her family, and a bunch of friends were all detained at the Canadian/American border
by US Customs and Border Patrol agents (CBP) in two different locations. Every single one of the people detained were American citizens, and they were all treated absolutely horribly. Many had their electronics confiscated, and they were kept in freezing conditions without any explanation or recourse. One man was taken away from his family, put in a cell, and then his family was told that "an agency" was coming to deal with him, and they were told nothing further (only later to find out it was because of an unpaid ticket
from years ago.
Perhaps even more horrifying than the treatment that they all went through was the complete lack of response
to any and all journalistic questions about this. The DHS basically refused to return any calls and just ignored the matter. Abdurrahman was able to get one person from one of the border crossings on the phone at one point, and was basically told that he wasn't going to tell her anything. The sheer lack of accountability, concern or transparency was both shocking and depressing. Since then, On the Media
has continued to try to get answers... and has come up empty. Homeland Security and Customs and Border Patrol appear to be taking the position that maybe if they ignore this situation it'll go away.
In talking their situation over with some experts, the OTM team was told that the way to deal with this was to get Congress to hold DHS accountable, and the way to do that
is to have constituents of Representatives who have oversight authority concerning DHS to call their Reps and demand answers. OTM has tried calling their own Reps without much luck, so they've instead decided to crowdsource the journalistic effort
. They're asking basically all of their listeners to put on their journalist hats, and to call Congress, asking some specific questions. If that listener happens to be represented by someone on a DHS oversight committee, it connects you directly to that office. Otherwise, they'll pick randomly from the list (of course, non-constituent calls tend to have less sway with Congress).
To make this even easier, they've built a tool to make it easy to call Congress, complete with the list of questions they'd like you to ask and a form to fill out the answers. Oh, and they've made the whole thing embeddable. It's at the bottom of this post. For those who think this doesn't have an impact, you should never underestimate the power of phone calls to your Representatives. They tend to have significantly more influence that most people expect.