On Sunday night, my family and I began the long trek of flying back to the United States from the Spring Break vacation we took to Cairo, Egypt. We had a blast, but something very disturbing happened yesterday once we finally arrived back in the United States. Customs and immigration officers came and pulled me and my family out of the passport line, calling us by name, knowing everything about our trip, and detained us in a small interrogation room for questioning.
Having flown first from the small town we were staying into Cairo, then from Cairo to Switzerland, then from Switzerland to JFK Airport in New York City – by the time we landed, with our young kids in tow, we were exhausted. We had been traveling for 24 hours straight. Mind you, our kids are young.
If you’ve ever flown internationally, you know that after you get off of the plane, you must go through the customs, scan your passport, then see an immigration and customs officer.
And that’s exactly what we did.
We got off the plane and then went to the small kiosks where you can manually scan your passports and answer a few basic questions. Everybody’s passport check was approved but mine. Mine came back with an X across my face.
We didn’t really think much of it, though, because it had happened to one of us before and it was a legitimate random screening.
So we took our printouts, mine with an X across my face, and proceeded to get in the final line so that we could go get our bags.
What we did not know is that it appears immigration and customs officials had been tracking our entire trip. Thinking we were just a few minutes from getting to baggage claim, an immigration and customs officer, who knew my family by name, came up to us in line, referred to our trip to Egypt and said that we had to go away with him for questioning.
I pushed back and asked him if it was mandatory, and he said yes.
So, in front of hundreds of people who were in line, they hauled us off down a hallway and into a plain white room for questioning.
Before we got there, I texted our attorney at The Intercept, where I work full-time, and two of my colleagues there to let them know what was happening.
All of this was about them showing their power to intimidate me and my family and to show us that they are tracking us.
When I posted this online yesterday – I saw a few people ask why I was surprised. It wasn’t that my wife and I were surprised – we are aware that the Trump administration is tracking journalists, that the Trump administration is tracking Black Lives Matter activists, and that the Trump administration is tracking people who travel to countries of color around the world – and I fit all three of those groups.
But it’s one thing to know something in theory – and an altogether different experience to have your whole family pulled out of line and taken to an interrogation room.
Once we got there, in front of the officer, I instructed my wife and kids to not say a word to him, and to speak directly to me. He then said several things that were disturbing. He openly admitted that my role as a leader in the Black Lives Matter Movement played a role in why I was being detained. He then admitted that what he called “my case” was first in the hands of another officer who he said “didn’t want anything to do with it” – whatever that means.
He wanted to know what we did on our trip –and with about two sentences, I told him it was a family vacation. But of course, they already knew this. He said he wanted to speak with me about Black Lives Matter in particular. With my whole family dirty, tired, and hungry from the trip, I told him that if he wanted to have that type of conversation they were going to have to find me another time.
We weren’t back there long – many of my Muslim friends are regularly detained for hours and hours every time they fly internationally – so yesterday we experienced just a small part of what they are forced to endure all of the time.
The family was shaken up a bit by the experience at first, but we got our bags, got home safely yesterday, and everybody seems to be doing just fine afterward.
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