Human rights worker: JFK's secondary screening procedures are "human rights abuses"

An American human-rights worker was detained by the DHS at JFK when she returned from her holiday in Syria. She found herself in a Kafka-esque nightmare room crammed like a cattle-car with Americans and foreigners seething as they were abused, ignored, insulted (and sometimes deported) by the US government's representatives. So much for public diplomacy.

No one who had been detained knew precisely why they were there. A few people were led into private rooms; others were questioned out in the open at desks a few feet from the crowd and then allowed to pass through customs. Some were sent to another section of the holding area with large computer screens and cameras, and then brought back. The uninformed consensus among the detainees was that some people would be fingerprinted, have their irises scanned and be sent back to the countries from which they had disembarked, regardless of citizenship status; others would be fingerprinted and allowed to stay; and the unlucky ones would be detained indefinitely and moved to a more permanent facility.

There was one British tourist in the group. Paul (also not his real name) was traveling with three friends who had passed through customs soon after their plane landed and were waiting for him on the other side of the metal barrier; he suspected he had been detained because of his dark skin. When he asked if he could go to the bathroom, one of the guards said, "I wouldn't." "What if someone has to?" I asked. "They will just have to hold it," the guard responded with a smile. Paul began to cry. I watched as he, over the course of four hours, went from feeling exuberant about his trip to New York to despising the entire country. "I speak the Queen's English," he said to me. "I'm third-generation British. I came to America because I've always wanted to come here, and now they've got me so scared that all I want to do is go home. We're paying for your stupid war anyway."

I once got pulled out for secondary screening at the Australian border. They brought my pregnant wife a chair and a glass of water, were friendly and professional and prompt, and never made me feel anything other than welcome. They thoroughly investigated me without ever making me feel like a crook. It took all of 10 minutes. It doesn't have to be this way.

At JFK Airport, Denying Basic Rights Is Just Another Day at the Office