Despite the fact that everyone in On The Media’s producer Sarah Abdurrahman’s family were all US citizens and that once citizenship is established you are supposed to be free to enter the country, they were detained for six hours by US Customs and Border Patrol.
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.
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.
While a person can submit a complaint, there is little that will be done to resolve the situation. CBP claims broad authority and operates unto itself, above the law, terrorizing its own citizens.