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“Randomly Selected” or Racial Profiling?

“Randomly Selected” or Racial Profiling?

by | May 24, 2017

A week ago today, I returned from one of the most meaningful trips of my life. Only to find myself detained and questioned over and over by the CBP (U.S. Customs and Border Protection).

The sign read Welcome All Passengers, and with all honesty up until that point it felt great to be back on US soil, “home”. One of the few reasons I was eager to return home was because again, I had an unpleasant encounter at the Benito Juarez International Airport in Mexico City, Mexico. My boarding pass once again stood out from my son’s boarding pass because of the four “SSSS” printed and highlighted in yellow on the lower right hand corner. What does “SSSS” on a boarding pass mean? I joke around and refer to the 4 “SSSS” as Super, Super, Super Special treatment. But what it truly stands for is Secondary Security Screening Selection. I’m not sure if they came up with the acronym first and then came up with words to justify it or what. Simply put, it means you’re getting an extra thorough search when you go through security because you were “randomly selected”.

And so thanks to the lack of world religion education in my native Mexico, I was asked to remove my hijab (head scarf), in front of everyone, again, I went through this last year too. Unfortunately, this seems to only happen to me when traveling through a Spanish-speaking country. The reason I say this, is because I was also asked to remove my hijab before boarding the plane in Bogota, Colombia both times I visited that beautiful country. Anyway, after pointing out to them and explaining my reasoning behind my head scarf and going over my documentation (passport w/head scarf). They continued with their search and eventually we boarded the plane, Alhamdulillah!

After arriving to the U.S. and obtaining my automated passport control stub from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection kiosk, we proceeded to stand in line and wait for an immigration officer to call us to his booth. During the wait, I notice an X across mine but not my son’s. I knew right then, there was something wrong, I was not able to identify exactly what the problem was so I began to pray. My mind transported me to the many horror stories we heard a few weeks ago in Washington DC during the 3rd annual Muslim Capital Hill Day. I was honestly preparing for the worst, whatever that was. The officer finally called my son and I to the window, he asked the normal questions, “Where did you travel? How long were you there? Who did you visit? and so on. He then directed to Andrew my son, he asked him. “Who is she?” He replied with a puzzled face, “my mom”. We exchanged a few more words before he instructed me to get my luggage from the baggage area, he kept my passport and asked me to come back. This had never happened to me, so I began to assume hundreds of uncertain things. As I got my luggage, I decided to pull my phone out and began to snapchat. I felt the need to begin documenting whatever was about to happen. After getting my luggage, I was asked to stand in a specific line.

I met and made eye contact with the woman in front of me carrying her infant daughter, they happened to be Jamaican. I said hello and asked the following question “Were you randomly selected too?” She replied, “More like racial profiling, you are Muslim and I am black”.

I knotted my head feeling the same way she did at that point and smiled. Eventually we were escorted to a detention area where there was a TV on and many latino and black passengers waiting to be interrogated by the CBP. A Caucasian officer approached us and asked us to follow him, our belongings needed to be checked. As we proceed, we both initiated a friendly conversation, he shared with us how exciting it is to have a 3 year old son and was in the process of making the decision of putting him in school next year or not. Once he was done checking our belongings, we returned to the same detention area. Soon after, the same officer asked me to come with him, I asked my son to join us. He suggested for him to stay and I insisted for him to come with me and so he did, Alhamdulillah. We entered a small office where another officer was waiting for us, his name tag read Sgt Garza. He was an older, Mexican American officer, he asked me to write my home address on a piece of paper and soon after the interrogation began. At that point, I was extremely nervous and Sister Afia Siddiqui came to mind subhan’Allah. During the entire time, I kept my cool, I asked questions when I didn’t understand something and tried to be as cooperative as possible. I was asked to step outside with the others and within minutes they asked me to come back inside. By this time, I had already posted (documented) the following Facebook status on my wall, it read, “We have arrived but we are in a detention area FYI #duas!!!” At that point, I wanted to make sure to inform my love ones of our arrival but also I wanted to informed them, that we had been detained. I thought to myself, I can’t believe this is happening to me, but it’s happening and it can happen to just about anyone. Within minutes I am given a pamphlet titled Inspection of Electronic Devices, I was asked to read it and to hand over my electronics which included both my laptop and cell phone. I was also asked to give them my password. I decided to inform them about the status I had posted on my Facebook wall just to keep everything transparent and out in the open. They asked me to step outside again, this time the wait was much longer. Finally they asked me to come and so I did, they had a list of names and asked about these individuals one by one. But, before answering I shared with them how less than 2 weeks ago, I was in Washigton DC speaking to Senators and Congressmen and women about these issues. I told them, “This is ironic, never in a million years would I have thought I would be going through this experience myself, and here we are.” Sgt Garza kept saying he would get me out of there in no time, initially he estimated the process to take no more than 15 minutes, maximum 20, bless his heart! We laughed and the interrogation continued, upon finishing I was asked to step outside again. Those promised 20 minutes turned into 2 hours subhan’Allah. Soon after I was called one last time, they returned my laptop and cell phone. I proceed to asked “How can I avoid from this happening again?” They insisted that it was “Randomly Selected”. As they escorted us out, I told Sgt Garza I would be blogging about this whole experience and he asked me if I was treated well during my 2 hour detention. I replied, yes but you didn’t keep your word on the maximum 20 minutes promise, we laughed and parted ways.

After arriving home I decided to call my friend and lawyer at CAIR Brother Arsalan Saliullah. He has assisted me with advice and his services on previous occasions, Alhamdulillah. During our phone conversation, I told him every single detail I might have missed on this article, and asked him if I or they did anything wrong? I also asked about the confiscation of my electronic devices. He told me I did a great job by maintaining calm and collective at all times. He also confirmed what I was hoping was a violation but it’s not. They are allowed to confiscate your devices and can keep them until further notice. I got mine back the same day, thanks to my cooperative behavior. Brother Arsalan sent me the following articles, I now pass them on to you for greater benefit in shaa Allah.  The first one is Can they search my phone? A guide to your rights at the border.  and the second one is What are your rights if border agents want to search your phone?  Educate yourself and know your rights, I can not stress that enough, in this date and age we must always be prepared.

Br Arsalan’s respected advice (my intuition):

  • Remain Calm and Collective at all times
  • Tell the Truth (You won’t need to remember any story if you stick to the real one)
  • Ask Questions
  • Follow up with CAIR before and after traveling if you feel the need (information below)

CAIR’s headquarters:

453 New Jersey Avenue, SE Washington, DC 20003
Phone: (202) 488-8787
Fax: (202) 488-0833

Se Habla Español – CAIRenEspañol

Please make sure you contact your local CAIR chapter

One of the main reasons why I decided to share this experience with all of you is because we no longer need to stay quiet, we must continue advocating for our rights and be the #Voice4theVoiceless. I pray none of you go through any type of interrogations, random selected or racial profiling. But if you do, know your rights, know what to do, what to say and how to act. Do not allow fear cripple you to the point where they can turn the cards on you in a matter of seconds. It has unfortunately happened to many, we need to be unapologetic, polite, alert, confident, vigilant and most importantly educated (know our rights).

May Allah subhana wa taa’la protect our ummah, free all the oppressed, guide the lost, bless the deserving of His mercy and grant us all His pleasure in this life and the next ameen.

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