Border Patrol's Horrific Treatment Of On The Media's Producer, Family & Friends Highlights The Lack Of Accountability From DHS
from the shameful dept
By now we’ve all heard plenty of stories about ridiculous goings on at the border by Homeland Security’s Customs and Border Patrol agents. We’ve written many times about questionable electronics searches. Still, I urge people to listen to the story that On The Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman did for last week’s episode, all about how she, her family and friends were all detained at the Canadian border for around six hours, the treatment they received and the lack of answers that anyone is willing to give when she asked questions (as a journalist) about these actions. Listen to it and try not to get angry at the shameful behavior of these agents supposedly representing our country.
Everyone they detained was an American citizen, coming back to the US after attending a wedding of a cousin. They were treated terribly, put in a cold room with no food or drinks, and no information on what was going on. CBP demanded they hand over their electronics, and made it clear they might not get them back. The thing is, this isn’t a unique situation. As the report notes, there’s almost no oversight over CBP actions, allowing them to act with impunity. In the report, the story is told of a 4-year-old girl, an American citizen, who was detained for 14 hours, in a cold room, without being allowed to speak to her parents and given no food beyond a cookie. And then she was deported. Even though she was a US citizen. She was allowed to come back weeks later, but now has symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Abdurrahman’s own story is perhaps not that crazy, but is still ridiculous. She tried to find out information during the detainment, but was repeatedly told “it’s not your right to know.” She wasn’t even allowed to know the names of the CBP agents who detained them. When she asked, agents turned their backs to her so she couldn’t see their name tags. Multiple attempts at getting Homeland Security or CBP to respond to questions failed.
She also tells the story of some other wedding attendees who were similarly detained with incredibly obnoxious behavior from CBP agents. The first one they met was quizzing everyone in the car on their names, and the 3-year-old kid in the back cheerily volunteered his name and the CBP agent snapped at him. The agents initially promised that they wouldn’t search their phones, but then demanded that people unlock their phones, and even told them the phones would be confiscated and not returned. People complained that they needed their phones for work and were basically told too bad. Abdurrahman notes that three full cars of people from that one wedding all had their phones confiscated, and she notes that DHS claims only about 15 phones are confiscated each day by CBP, and wonders why everyone from one wedding appear to have nearly reached that quota.
Then there’s the really ridiculous part: one of the people detained went through mutliple invasive body searches, and then after five and half hours was suddenly handcuffed and locked up in a jail cell with no explanation at all. He asked the officers to let his family know what was going on, but they didn’t. Instead, they told his family to leave, and when they asked what happened, his family was told that “an agency” was coming to “pick him up,” without giving any more details — obviously leading to the worst assumptions. Instead, it turned out the guy had an unpaid ticket for a crooked license plate from 2006. CBP called the Michigan State Police to come “get him” over this — and, again, didn’t explain any of this to his family.
Basically, the CBP seems to act like you’d expect pretty much any group in authority with no oversight to act. They seem to feel free to terrorize people just because they can and because there are no recriminations. And there’s basically nothing to be done about this. Abdurrahman finds out that they can submit a complaint, but that such complaints rarely lead to anything, other than getting a cursory letter saying that the complaint has been “dismissed.”
The stories and quotes from the various individuals who went through this — all American citizens just trying to get back into their own country — are heartbreaking. They talk about how dehumanizing this is, how unwelcome it makes them feel in their own country, how it feels like an attack on their dignity, how it makes them feel like an animal. It’s horrifying and shameful. It’s also depressing. This is not how any country should act, especially towards its own citizens, and when it’s my country acting this way, I’m horrified. Yes, all the stuff about America standing for freedom and whatnot can be seen as its own form of propaganda — and most people realize that the US has never really lived up to the ideals it sets forth, but to have them stomped on so blatantly, and then having no one willing to answer for them is just… horrific. Sarah, her family and friends, all deserved much better. And, we, as American citizens all deserve much better.