What it's like to come home to America if your name is "Ahmed"


Ahmed Shihab-Eldin is a respected journalist who holds US citizenship. Every time he returns to his home in New York, he is detained for many hours by the DHS, subjected to humiliating questioning and detention without evidence or charge, because he fits a "profile" that seems to consist entirely of "brown dude with Arabic name who visits the middle east." He recently returned from the World Economic Forum in Davos and found himself detained for hours, despite having been assured that his name had been removed from the DHS's watch-list.

His story of harrowing treatment at JFK airport stands in sharp contrast to his experiences at checkpoints in the middle east, where security risks are much more immediate and more grave. As he points out, America has spent billions creating an aviation security system and system of border checks that have had no material impact on security, but have nonetheless enmiserated, alienated, and harassed millions of people who committed no crime and posed no threat,

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.

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.

Davos to Detention: Why I Hate Coming Home to America [Ahmed Shihab-Eldin/Huffington Post]

(via Mitch Wagner)

Notable Replies

  1. 'murica.

  2. Knew this already. But I'm brown, so I got to learn about it the hard way. I'd say I'm waiting for these thugs to get hit with a serious lawsuit, but what I'm really waiting for is a judicial system that would take it seriously.

  3. I love the way that a terrorist would supposedly do almost anything to get into the country: change their passport details, get a high profile journalism job, morph into an 8 year old boy... but NOT change their name. It's like the security procedure is run by middle schoolers trying out programming for the first time.

    We didn't have any trouble at the border, but it took five visits to the US consulate and about 2 1/2 hours of talking with officials (not including the waiting periods) before our four year old adopted son could be given a visa to travel over from China. This time they did give us the rationale, which was that "we need to assume that every Chinese person is going to try to work and remain in the country illegally". In the end we were let through, with the strict warning that if they find us doing any work, we would be kicked out of the country immediately. Incidentally, this was the guy we'd been talking with the whole time, who knew who we were and was sympathetic to why we were visiting the US. He just kept repeating that "the system says that I have to..." At the border control in Dulles we were all waved through the immigration for US citizens as a group (because of my wife and daughter's US passports) and a couple of officials even offered to carry our bags to the next stage. Every previous time I've been hassled about my reasons for being in the country, so this time felt really weird.

  4. I do think it's possible to sue for civil rights violations and win, but of course right now no sacrifice is too great to prevent another 9/11, especially your sacrifice.

  5. Surely the only foolproof method of avoiding the next 9/11 is to change the calendar.

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