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"Everyone being held was a US citizen."
September 23, 2013 7:38 AM   Subscribe

But that didn't prevent On the Media producer Sarah Abdurrahman and several members of her family and friends from being detained at a Canadian-US border while on the way home from a wedding. The story is all the more frightening as it details Sarah's inability to get any answers about policy from the Border Patrol, including the name of the officers who held her.
posted by Eyeveex (92 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
Is there a transcript anyplace? Any indication if this represents a one-off extra-judicial search like with Manning's friend David Maurice House. Or if they've aimed the full repeated border harassment toolkit at here like with Laura Poitras and Jacob Appelbaum (ioerror)?
posted by jeffburdges at 7:51 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


including the name of the officers who held her.

Note that if you can't get the names of the officers involved in an incident, it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to sue over that incident -- even though you're suing the government, not the individual officers.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 7:52 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


Hi there. My name is Alex Goldman and I'm a producer for On the Media. Our transcripts usually make it to our website on Monday afternoon, and I'll post a link in the thread when it's up. If you have questions for Sarah about this piece, I can have her hop on later and answer them for you.

Thanks for listening.
posted by Alex Goldman at 7:53 AM on September 23, 2013 [141 favorites]


The piece alleges that these searches frequently last 6-7 hours for certain classes of people (those who appear to be muslim).

The part about the officers refusal to give their names was particularly frightening. That and these employees apparently cheerful willingness to treat citizens at the boarder who have not committed any apparent crimes like shit makes me wonder where do they hire these proto-nazis? Are average people willing to work for CPB and act thusly just really common, or does CPB turn them into that kind of person?
posted by skewed at 7:55 AM on September 23, 2013 [3 favorites]


I heard this piece Saturday and just couldn't stop shaking my head in dismay. "9/11 changed everything", indeed.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:00 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


Any indication if this represents a one-off extra-judicial search like with Manning's friend David Maurice House

Listening right now - along with Abdurrahman's car, at least two other cars full of wedding guests were detained at a different crossing. The On The Media piece implies that this is about racial and religious profiling, not journalistic harassment, but of course it's probably impossible to determine for sure.
posted by muddgirl at 8:00 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Note that if you can't get the names of the officers involved in an incident, it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to sue over that incident -- even though you're suing the government, not the individual officers.

Honestly, this is one of the scariest parts of this for me. Theoretically, we have the tools to expose and curb police abuses, but without being able to identify the people responsible, those tools are useless.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 8:02 AM on September 23, 2013


I guess this is news if you don't know anybody who lives on the other border?

You know, the one where officers named Gutiérrez, Garcia, or Guerrero will interrogate octogenarian abuelas from the rancho with butchered, heavily accented English with just enough self-hating racist cruelty to make them sweat.

Sometimes the boys in green would just decide to take apart your car and leave you there, in blistering hot legal limbo out in the sun for hours with no shade or restrooms, without telling you what the hell is going on, only that you can't leave the painted white lines on the cement or you'll go to prison for life. God forbid you casually reference your rights as a citizen, or responding to their questions with anything other than total subservience.

I'm totally going to let you finish, Sarah, but everyone down here learned to despise the border patrol and security theatre decades ago.

I feel like a reporter should maybe look into the broader issue of systemic dickery rather than personal outrage anecdotes, but I guess I'm more of a traditional media guy.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:03 AM on September 23, 2013 [35 favorites]


To be fair, now that I've listened to the full 20 minutes, she does briefly get an introductory statement from an ACLU guy from Arizona, but naturally glosses over the parts that didn't apply to her incident.

I find it interesting to find that she keeps asking why did this happen. The answer is, and has always been, because fuck you. Because we can.

This may not be charitable, but I find all the references to how they speak clear English, are educated professionals with smartphones, are citizens etc; really infuriating because I feel like it implies it's okay that this can happen to people who aren't. No, that's not fair, but that's how I feel.

The border patrol does this to everyone. It doesn't have anything to do with Islam or terrorism. It's a systemic issue.

Kudos to her for bringing whatever publicity she can to this stuff. It will never change.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:14 AM on September 23, 2013 [22 favorites]


Any indication if this represents a one-off

Yeah keep dreaming.
posted by clarknova at 8:15 AM on September 23, 2013


I feel like a reporter should maybe look into the broader issue of systemic dickery rather than personal outrage anecdotes, but I guess I'm more of a traditional media guy.

Dude, cool your jets. This is a reporter telling the story of her personal detention. It is interesting and relevant. Furthermore, OTM just did a piece on warrantless searches at the border earlier this month, so it's not like this report is the first time they've discussed this issue.
posted by Aizkolari at 8:16 AM on September 23, 2013 [27 favorites]


Not much change since this, then.
posted by George_Spiggott at 8:21 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This may not be charitable, but I find all the references to how they speak clear English, are educated professionals with smartphones, are citizens etc; really infuriating because I feel like it implies it's okay that this can happen to people who aren't. No, that's not fair, but that's how I feel.

This kind of thing is necessary to scare her listeners out of complacency.
posted by mkb at 8:30 AM on September 23, 2013 [28 favorites]


I'm going to stop myself with this one last comment, but there is a huge difference between the legal right every country in the world infrequently exercises to perform a warrantless search at the border and just screwing with you for no reason at all, keeping you in indefinite detention, after that search has been performed.

If you're going to report on something as big as the border patrol and casual, flagrant human rights abuse, you should consider using your anecdote as a lead-in for referencing the preceding decades of problems that millions of people have had with this government organization rather than oh my god this thing that happened to me was so messed up and I called some people but couldn't get any answers and nobody will return my calls. Anyway... here's Tom with the weather.

But I'll do everybody a favor and withhold my lecture on the decline of investigative journalism for another day.

But it's hard for me to not feel outrage listening to this piece that entirely buries the lede during the very short opener from the Arizona ACLU that casually referenced a little girl, who is a citizen, who now has PTSD after being detained alone in a room for 20 hours then being deported for the offense of being borne with the surname of Ruiz... versus a few minivans getting stopped for six hours coming back from Canada.
posted by hobo gitano de queretaro at 8:31 AM on September 23, 2013 [13 favorites]


I'll do everybody a favor and withhold my lecture on the decline of investigative journalism for another day.

I'm assuming, because you mentioned "investigative journalism", that you may not be famliar with the On The Media program - maybe knowing what that program is will help you understand the tone of this particular piece.

On The Media is an NPR program that focuses almost exclusively on media itself, and how print/books, radio, television, and the like are being affected by a shifting society. The woman who wrote this article doesn't even have an investigative journalism beat - unless you want to consider "how Netflix instant-streaming is affecting scripted television" and the like.

However, this incident was too alarming for the author of this piece to not comment upon, and so that is why she wrote a first-hand account - even though it was something not on her regular beat. This wasn't a lackluster piece of investigative journalism, it was an eyewitness account of something that happened to someone who didn't ordinarily face this issue.

Incidentally, you may want to read or listen to this piece from a recent This American Life episode, as it may contain the kind of investigative delving you may be looking for.

I hear you on the lackluster reportage these days, but this particular article is not really the best target. For that you should probably target the main 3 networks (I do not count FOX for much of anything).
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 8:39 AM on September 23, 2013 [37 favorites]


I hate to say it, but get over it. I, a middle-aged white guy (White, as in pasty white American citizen), will get stopped more often than not at the CDN border, and it doesn't matter which way I am crossing, doesn't matter if my car is full of stuff or empty, doesn't matter if I drive or ferry. I always get the extra scrutiny. Apparently something goes off in their tiny pea brains that questions a lone male traveling cross border. they never explain why, or what triggered it. They never apologise for taking my time, when they find absolutely no reason for the search.
posted by Gungho at 8:42 AM on September 23, 2013


On The Media isn't traditionally a venue for original reporting (it's usually more of a meta-analytical show looking at how things are reported), and I didn't get the impression that this was the end of the story for them, so I'm inclined to cut them some slack for now

I think that most NPR listeners are familiar with the story of Emily Ruiz (it was reported on extensively 2 years ago) and with the human rights abuses on the US-Mexico border. Abdurrahman's primary interest in this story seemed to be not in the detention itself, but in the fact that people still have no legal recourse after detention, despite the existence of a so-called Civil Rights board within DHS. I think it's safe to say that she'll continue talking about what's she's learned about the DHS and border detentions both from a personal and a national perspective. That seems like a pretty good use of her privilege and her platform.
posted by muddgirl at 8:42 AM on September 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Even if they ran in the same marathon, one person's essay about how she felt in the middle of the pack isn't an insult to the gold medalist.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:43 AM on September 23, 2013 [19 favorites]


will get stopped more often than not at the CDN border

Were you detained for 6-8 hours in a freezing-cold room and repeatedly cavity searched despite being in a secured room? Were you questioned about your religious beliefs for no reason?

Yeah... not really seeing the similarities.
posted by muddgirl at 8:45 AM on September 23, 2013 [17 favorites]


I used to travel down to the states often (even lived there for a while), and as a Canadian, I've never had a good experience with US Border/Customs officers. The best I've gotten is a feeling of restrained annoyance from them. Conversely, I've never had a bad experience on the Canadian officers side. Often it's smiles and jokes, and occasional chitchat about the latest hockey game. I know they're probably just as likely to throw me in a hole from which I'll never emerge, but at least they give the impression that they are not actively looking for an excuse to humiliate and abuse you.

Probably my favourite experience was crossing the Swiss/France border when I lived in Switzerland (but shopped for groceries in France). After going though a few times, the border guards wouldn't even ask you to stop, they'd just wave and shout "Bonjour!" at you as your drove through.
posted by blue_beetle at 8:47 AM on September 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


Gungho: I hate to say it, but get over it.

If you hate to say it, you probably shouldn't put it on MetaFilter. Even if you feel it is important to get your opinion out there, telling someone (whom we have been told will be literally reading this thread later) to "get over it" in so many words is almost never helpful.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:49 AM on September 23, 2013 [34 favorites]


Gungho: "I hate to say it, but get over it."

I hate to say it, but get angry about it, gungho.
posted by boo_radley at 8:50 AM on September 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Listened to this over the weekend and was pretty horrified, especially by the queries into their religion.
posted by octothorpe at 8:53 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm also a middle aged white guy that crosses the Canadian border a few times a year. I've had a few unpleasant experiences, so yes, border guards can be dicks, but I can only imagine how much worse they would have been if I was of a darker skin shade.
posted by Hutch at 8:55 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am a white middle aged male who has been strip searched at the border after making the mistake of telling the agent I was returning from a Grateful Dead concert instead of just saying visiting friends. They asked all sorts of personal questions they had no business asking. I just kept asking if I was free to go. But, all that has nothing to do with racial or religious profiling. Mine was a drug profile I assume. I guess the solution is to let everyone pass with some quick questions or strip search everyone so as not to profile.

Regardless, they could learn to treat people with dignity and respect even while detaining them.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 8:56 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Hang on I'm going to do a little bit of CREATIVE EDITING via muddgirl's comment, for Gungho's edification. I apologize in advance for the FTFYness:

"I hate to say it, but get over it. I, a middle-aged white guy (White, as in pasty white American citizen), will get detained for 6-8 hours in a freezing-cold room and repeatedly cavity searched despite being in a secured room and questioned about my religious beliefs for no reason more often than not at the CDN border, and it doesn't matter which way I am crossing, doesn't matter if my car is full of stuff or empty, doesn't matter if I drive or ferry."

If this was actually the thing that was happening to white people on a regular basis, the president would be on TV condemning it after maybe the fifth time it happened and made the front page of whatever metro area's biggest newspaper.
posted by griphus at 8:57 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


JohnnyGunn: I guess the solution is to let everyone pass with some quick questions or strip search everyone so as not to profile.

I'd say the solution is to not racially/ethnically profile. I can't pull up a cite off the top of my head, but my understanding is that it doesn't even work.
posted by Rock Steady at 8:59 AM on September 23, 2013


I am a Canadian who has crossed into the US many times, and I have nothing but good to say about their border people. Things could have gone very badly for me a couple of times due to some youthful mistakes, but I lucked out thanks to the trusting and friendly officers who dealt with me. Deep gratitude here.
posted by No Robots at 9:01 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I hate to say it, but get over it.

The mantra of everyone who changed the world for the better.
posted by dirigibleman at 9:03 AM on September 23, 2013 [27 favorites]


But I'll do everybody a favor and withhold my lecture on the decline of investigative journalism for another day.

Appreciated!
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 9:06 AM on September 23, 2013 [5 favorites]


There was an article linked to here on the blue (post or comment, I can't recall; it may have been over a year ago) that was an extremely well written personal account of being a soldier stationed at an Israeli checkpoint.

One of the major focuses of the essay was an argument that the unreasonable harassment of individuals for no reason was an unofficial but deliberately cultivated policy. The policy was promoted through a constant emphasis on the soldiers' discretion as the people on the ground, in the moment, making a judgment call. This was a duty, a responsibility, and a carte blanche.

This emphasis on personal judgment, rather than intel, metrics, or procedure, created an empty space that could only be filled by paranoia and erratic abuse of power.

I don't believe that this sort of harassment serves any security purpose. In fact, I cannot think of any high risk area like this that is better served by broad and unchecked personal discretion than by codified expert knowledge and training. Actual metrics, and actual decisions on who to detain based on intel and reasonable, consistent, constantly updated, and objective characteristics is the only way I want my borders protected.
posted by jsturgill at 9:15 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


I hate to say it, but get over it. I, a middle-aged white guy (White, as in pasty white American citizen), will get stopped more often than not at the CDN border, and it doesn't matter which way I am crossing, doesn't matter if my car is full of stuff or empty, doesn't matter if I drive or ferry. I always get the extra scrutiny. Apparently something goes off in their tiny pea brains that questions a lone male traveling cross border. they never explain why, or what triggered it. They never apologise for taking my time, when they find absolutely no reason for the search.

At one point, I was rather worried that I wouldn't be able to re-enter Canada (not that that's a problem anymore). My single hope was one of a handful of, "So what were you doing/what are you doing in Seattle after such a long stay in Canada on visa?". It dropped, I condensed two hours of biotech interview into 10 seconds of jargon and I got to witness the human equivalent of crash-to-desktop.

Luckily the desktop background for that particular border agent was, "Welcome (back) to Canada"
posted by Slackermagee at 9:17 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just as the purpose of terror is terror and the purpose of torture is torture (that latter being Orwell), it seems possible that the purpose of arbitrariness is arbitrariness. You can't game the system if there isn't one.
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:19 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


(Please do not read that as a defense of this blatant and contemptible abuse -- it is not intended as such.)
posted by George_Spiggott at 9:21 AM on September 23, 2013


There is a de-facto rule that in order to enter the US you must willingly relinquish your civil rights.
posted by Jode at 9:32 AM on September 23, 2013


This morning, a friend of a friend of a friend had me conference in via google hangout to teach a class of San Jose 7th graders about 9-11. This was one of the odder recent experiences in my life.

I was warned ahead of time that the kids were not going to be up on the nuances of politics and religion, and I quickly discovered that the class was entirely made up of Asian and Latino kids, so phrases like "look like you and me" were obviously out, but the message I tried to impart through the questions was partially Fred Rogers' "look for the helpers, there are always people helping" mantra, but mostly that prior to 9-11, our understanding of terrorism has been primarily as a tragedy perpetrated by individuals, but that these attacks changed the view to an us-vs-them fight against a class of almost 100% innocent people, and that we're still recovering from that to recognize and respect our fellow man the way we ideally should.

I hope that message got through, because events like this are unacceptable.
posted by Navelgazer at 9:34 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a de-facto rule that in order to enter the US you must willingly relinquish your civil rights.

And your orange that you were going to have for lunch. Which was grown in stupid America in the first place, dammit.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 9:35 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I feel like it implies it's okay that this can happen to people who aren't.

But it doesn't imply that at all, it simply illustrates a point, so maybe the problem is your outrage trigger?
posted by spaltavian at 9:35 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


9/11 changed everything in the sense that your rights, your government's common sense and the public's understanding of risk receded sharply into the background.

But Jose Padilla, John Walker Lindh, the London bombers and other later cases changed things in a different way - they legitimised the view that not only were muslims the enemy but American (or British) muslims were now a significant part of the threat profile.

Like most people I'm not privy to successful counterterrorism activities we don't hear about publicly, but it's a truism that the mainstream removal of one's rights and transparency in the name of security is a poor trade*. It basically legitimises casual racism. It legitimises institutional racism.

But for people that don't care about that it's also counterproductive for three reasons:

- time spent pulling apart the lives of Americans based on poor triaging of the potential terrorism threat they pose is a gift to terrorists. It allows them to shift or manipulate activity to places where security theatre has not caught up. The Al Qaeda terrorists of 9/11 were not stupid. They had done their homework.

- if, if American muslims were starting to align with islamic extremists to form a significant threat then that same community would be the key to any successful counterterrorism. But who would report a gentle suspicion of a neighbour or fellow community member to the authorities in the knowledge of how they treat innocent people?

- without putting too fine a point on it, American muslims are not the ones standing up and telling people how many guns they have amassed and how they'd like to bring about revolution, using rhetoric not out of place in countries on the brink of civil war. You would struggle sometimes to remember that Oklahoma was just six years before 9/11 or that the Waco siege happened the same year as the 1993 WTC bombing.

* Without turning this into a gun control thread, an interesting stat. More Americans have died from firearms within the US than American soldiers have died in all wars fought since the War of Independence. Liberty, apparently, does have a price.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:36 AM on September 23, 2013 [12 favorites]


And your orange that you were going to have for lunch. Which was grown in stupid America in the first place, dammit.

On re-entering the US once, I was shouted at for several minutes for having a peach in the car. I was taking the short cut from Buffalo to Michigan and didn't even stop the car in Canada. After a lecture and some yelling, the officer threatened to arrest me when I started laughing. It got real serious after that.
posted by joegester at 9:42 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Does anyone know what legal requirements are applicable to a US citizen returning to the US? Obviously officers can lie, intimidate and coerce but what things can you do or not do that have a good chance of standing up in court? Specifically of course I'm curious what questions you have to answer and which (if any) you can refuse to answer.
posted by Skorgu at 9:49 AM on September 23, 2013 [7 favorites]


And your orange that you were going to have for lunch. Which was grown in stupid America in the first place, dammit.

We once got stopped at the border after a day trip to Canada with a box of 50 lbs of (American!) russet potatoes in the trunk. I remembered them about 0.05 seconds after the border patrol officer said "Do you mind popping your trunk for me so I can look inside?" My mind raced ahead of myself so badly that when the officer said wearily "OK, folks, do you want to talk about these potatoes?" all I could tell him was the truth -- we belong to a farm share, we got this box of potatoes, we have a stupid cat, the potatoes need to be kept in a cool dark dry place, the only reliable cool dark dry place I have available is the trunk of my car, we forgot about the potatoes when we came to Canada.

Fortunately 1) the name of the Washington farm was printed on the box, 2) we were a Nice White Family. So they let us back into the country along with our bootleg potatoes. This is one of many Homeland Security situations I've been in where I am absolutely 100% sure that things would have gone differently for me had I been brown.
posted by KathrynT at 9:56 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I was once made to clean my shoes on entry to New Zealand. Auckland airport had a special room where you could go do it, so it can't have been a rare request.

Crossing state borders (Northern Territory to Western Australia) we saw a sign five miles out saying we couldn't bring any fruit or vegetables across state lines - just over the border they've dammed a river and have massive, high value irrigated fruit farms they don't want attacked by invasive pests. But fresh fruit and vegetables in outback Northern Territory are hellishly expensive. An investment. So we pulled off the road just before the border and went a few miles off to this campground in Keep River National Park. It was empty, not a single other person, and you could do a short walk and go see some aboriginal wall paintings that were several thousand years old. So there's that.
posted by MuffinMan at 10:05 AM on September 23, 2013


I live roughly 50 miles south of the ND/Sask border. Population up here is quite white. And I have not experienced or heard of a pleasant border crossing in over a decade. Last time we went through on the Canadian side, we got smiles and a biscuit for the dog. The American side was nothing but rudeness, suspicion, and interrogation.

I suspect that what we have is not just post 9/11 seriousness but an institution overgrown of little John Waynes with big guns and tiny peckers, who really wanted to be something more and now take out their frustrations and impotence on whoever crosses that border.
posted by Ber at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2013 [15 favorites]


Sure, GungHo. Your experience is what it is, and I'm not going to deny that you have reason to be annoyed. But now, please realize that you are the most privileged class of person going into these encounters. What you're getting is the least amount of shit, and it's still enough to annoy you. So, now try to imagine what the people lower on the totem pole are putting up with.
posted by tyllwin at 10:15 AM on September 23, 2013 [8 favorites]


The On The Media piece implies that this is about racial and religious profiling, not journalistic harassment, but of course it's probably impossible to determine for sure.

And it's a shame that either one should even be a possibility, let alone both.

Heads need to roll* over this incident.

*Figuratively, okay?
posted by Gelatin at 10:18 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


The US border is the only place I've seen someone throw a come-along restraining hold on an Amish dude (who looked about 60 years old). These same agents also swore at me and mocked me for having sleep apnea when they got into my stuff.

My experience is that the intensity of scrutiny varies based on the social class implied by your mode of transport. Never had it easier than when I flew Toronto-Pittsburgh. Taking a rental car Toronto-Indianapolis was worse, but worst of all was the bus between Toronto and Erie, PA, where border agents seem to really like fucking with you.
posted by mobunited at 10:23 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


The US border is the only place I've seen someone throw a come-along restraining hold on an Amish dude (who looked about 60 years old).

* blinks * Did you happen to know why? I'm trying to think what possible justification for suspicion an Amish man would come under, and all I can come up with was "the border patrol guy just really hated that movie Witness".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:27 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad someone posted this. I heard it with my wife and eldest daughter yesterday coming back from a sporting event. My daughter is autistic and has a very primal and rooted sense justice and injustice and she was just beside herself about what she was hearing on the radio. It was all my wife and I could do to get her to calm down once the report was over.

What disturbed me the most was the fundamental opacity of the process from top to bottom, and the failure of just about anyone involved on the government side to even appear to feel bad about that. The PR guy for DHS in DC seemed to come the closest. It really makes me wonder if people who work for DHS have trouble sleeping at night. Not that I begrudge anyone their paycheck, but I'd feel better knowing that at least feel a little guilty about it.
posted by hwestiii at 10:30 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Did you happen to know why? I'm trying to think what possible justification...

Because "Shut up, you. You want some of this?"
posted by tyllwin at 10:36 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


Note that if you can't get the names of the officers involved in an incident, it becomes much more difficult, if not impossible, to sue over that incident -- even though you're suing the government, not the individual officers.

They would almost certainly be able to piece together who would have been at the border station based on records, though. Like, even checking who logged the search and detainment into their system should give some idea of which officers were involved. Also they presumably have some kind of surveillance cameras. But these likely are impossible to obtain for the average joe.
posted by Hoopo at 10:46 AM on September 23, 2013


I frequently cross the US-Canadian border by air and road. I'm about as privileged as it's possible to be in the eyes of US Border Patrol: white, male, a profession that's among their most trusted. Normally, I breeze through security.

It's very eye-opening, however, when I travel with colleagues who are ethnic Chinese or Arab or SE Asian. Long rounds of questions, delays, secondary "random" searches. We're travelling on the same business, for the same employer, with the same paperwork and yet there are miles (and hours) of difference in how we're treated. I'd never previously understood why these folks wanted at least two hours to make connections to the US, better three, but that's what they need. It's just the way it is.

For those saying get over it, try travelling with a friend who is a visible minority to see how much of this shit is just routine for everyone else.
posted by bonehead at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Here's a link to the story's transcript.
posted by Alex Goldman at 10:55 AM on September 23, 2013 [34 favorites]


* blinks * Did you happen to know why? I'm trying to think what possible justification for suspicion an Amish man would come under, and all I can come up with was "the border patrol guy just really hated that movie Witness".

Has a beard and dresses funny = terrorist.
posted by nathan_teske at 10:58 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I live roughly 50 miles south of the ND/Sask border. Population up here is quite white. And I have not experienced or heard of a pleasant border crossing in over a decade. Last time we went through on the Canadian side, we got smiles and a biscuit for the dog. The American side was nothing but rudeness, suspicion, and interrogation.

Experiences vary. Neither (Canadian, US perm resident) biscotti or I have ever had any trouble with the US border agents, but the Canadian ones give us shit fairly frequently -- pull us into secondary because we're traveling with our dogs so obviously we're trying to sell them and are smuggling them to avoid the $0 tax on imported dogs, or give biscotti shit for either not showing the *Canadians* her green card or, alternately, for showing them her green card, crap like that.

...which is really just to say that we probably shouldn't reason about the pleasantness or lack thereof of border agents from our personal anecdotes.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 10:59 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have a choice next month of two possible trips I could take to accomplish the same business (and contribute a fair chunk of money to the local economy)--I could go to Montana, or I could go to Victoria, B.C. I was planning to go to Victoria, but, you know, I'm white but dark enough that people seem to think I'm whatever ethnicity they have on their mind and am often addressed in Spanish, Farsi, etc. And I'll have my dog with me. It just doesn't seem worth the risk when I have another option.

Apart from the issue of civil liberties, it seems like this crap is going to have increasing economic impact on both sides as more and more people know someone who was harrassed, read articles like this, and so forth, and decide to play it safe.
posted by HotToddy at 11:06 AM on September 23, 2013


Sure, maybe they were just fucking with him, but:

I'm trying to think what possible justification for suspicion an Amish man would come under

Same as anyone else. Being technologically backwards as part of a crazy religion doesn't make them moral paragons.

Most obviously, the Amish guy could have been Canadian and lacked a passport.

Or maybe he had no evidence of an intent to return to Canada and was a high risk for overstay or immigrant intent. Or maybe he actually told the agents he was moving to the US because he didn't know you'd need a visa for that.

Or maybe had a bunch of undeclared produce with him, or produce without the right paperwork. Or undeclared or no-paperwork livestock, possibly in obviously bad shape (Amish are notorious for treating their work animals like shit and running puppy mills).

Or maybe he had a conviction in Canada for something and was inadmissible.

Or, fuck it, maybe they caught him trying to smuggle narcotics. There have been for real and no-shit Amish drug rings in PA.

Sorry. It's just the "Amish = cute and harmless" annoys me. The Amish have the same bad behaviors as most any group that's somewhere between a crazy cult and just a horrifyingly conservative religion that others the living shit out of anyone who's not them. Individual Amish people are prone to misdeeds or just errors as anyone else.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 11:19 AM on September 23, 2013 [4 favorites]


I have an idea for taking the religious and ethnic bias out of the equation, at least: Bring back the Red Scare! They're godless by default!
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 11:29 AM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Thanks for coming back and posting that link, Alex. I love OTM and think that Sarah did a great job covering that story. You guys all do great work and this is some of the best.
posted by Aizkolari at 11:48 AM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


Just read the transcript...wow. To the people who said "Get over it" and "this wasn't so bad" in this thread...what the hell?

I mean just a few things:

KHALED AHMED: Aggressively search me, push my forehead up against the concrete wall, going in between my legs, digging in my private areas. And they’d send me back for 10 or 15 or 20 minutes and call me back again and search me again.

SOFYAN AMRY: This is my home, so it was very much a betrayal, a cocktail of emotion - anger, sadness, depression, hopelessness, helplessness. And I remember anger slowly, slowly rising to the top, eclipsing all the other ones, ‘cause I just felt like I did not deserve this, I am not a criminal, I am not in possession of anything illegal. I am an American. Open the damn door and let me back home.


SARAH ABDURRAHMAN: We pledge to explain the CBP process to you.

ABDULLA DARRAT: Never. Not once did anybody explain to us what was happening or what procedures were to be followed, or anything.


what???
posted by sweetkid at 12:21 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Or, fuck it, maybe they caught him trying to smuggle narcotics. There have been for real and no-shit Amish drug rings in PA.

Just sayin'.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:04 PM on September 23, 2013


They are US citizens. Not to discount their experience in any way but there have been times that citizens have had issue with the government. Wouldn't the next step be to work through their congressman? I'm perplexed that the reporter left it at, "the report was redacted".
posted by sammyo at 1:20 PM on September 23, 2013



One of the major focuses of the essay was an argument that the unreasonable harassment of individuals for no reason was an unofficial but deliberately cultivated policy. The policy was promoted through a constant emphasis on the soldiers' discretion as the people on the ground, in the moment, making a judgment call. This was a duty, a responsibility, and a carte blanche.

This emphasis on personal judgment, rather than intel, metrics, or procedure, created an empty space that could only be filled by paranoia and erratic abuse of power.


This is the reason, right here. And it's in every neo-liberal system currently in the world. If you've ever watch the Adam Curtis film "The Century of the Self", it goes into a resonable (but not exactly perfect or completely right) break down of how many government agencies have abdicated responsibility for these actions by making each individual front-line employee feel that they have the power to do this kind of thing. The reality? Border checks should simply be "do you have your ID?", logging the ID, seeing if any hits come up with outstanding warrants or other real red flags (real, not bullshit like the No-Fly-List), and then let them go. Real police work is collecting evidence, not stopping crime before the act occurs. That is a full on fantasy.

You might stop a terror attack if you are watching the border for someone entering the country. Then you have one bit of data to track and say that the suspect was at this particular location at this particular time. And really, you should just let the suspect go at the border. If you think they are trafficking narcotics or smuggling illegal immigrants, you should pass them through and have them picked up down the road by the local police, or ICE or DEA or whatever other agency might handle whatever particular crime they should be handling. You know why? Border agents are not trained to collect evidence and create a valid chain of possession. How many people are actually sent to prison from border stops? Someone find me some data, please. But off the top of your head, who actually gets detained at the border and criminally prosecuted for anything more than whatever charges get trumped up by the border agents?

There was the Peter Watts incident, and the only charges he got was assault against the border agent. No other charges. He wasn't smuggling drugs, he didn't have a prior criminal record.

But I mean, seriously, can we talk about real border security? I mean, the whole point of having a border check is really just to log who and what enters the country and at what geological point, with a time stamp. The harassment and the intimidation does nothing to improve safety, let alone deter people from trying to cross the borders. It gives those thugs in uniform a sense of power, and it makes incidents like this one into national headlines, but it does absolutely nothing to prevent crime, deter terrorism (if anything, it may increase the likelyhood).

Bleah. Sorry, a little disjointed mentally this morning. But yeah, this is stupid.
posted by daq at 1:30 PM on September 23, 2013 [9 favorites]


Alex Goldman: "Here's a link to the story's transcript."

Cheers!

My hearing is not so good (due to massive tinnitus) so transcripts are a must for me in cases like this.
posted by Samizdata at 1:32 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it really troubling that equally egregious craziness was happening at two different border crossings. I suppose it's possible there was some underlying common reason, bullshit or no, that the border patrol wanted to investigate these people in particular. But assuming that's not the case, the frequency of serious harassment here -- three carloads out of what can't have been more than a few dozen that she knew returning to the U.S. that day -- is terrifying.
posted by gerstle at 1:56 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


...the harassment and the intimidation does nothing to improve safety, let alone deter people from trying to cross the borders...

But it does deter people from trying to cross the borders: the difficulty of border crossings into the United States from Europe and Asia (for non-citizens, mind you; that's a whole other level of abuse) is an oft-cited reason for organizations with an international meeting schedule to shift their North American locations to Canada.

Mind you, these aren't people with the sort of criminal (or, indeed, simply migratory) agenda the specter of which has led to the popular support that funded the expansion of the Border Patrol into the petty, useless mass that it is. They're rather the target audience for that kind-of-Orwellian hey-look-at-how-welcoming-America-is video they play thirty or so times before you make it to the front of the immigration line at the airport.

So there's that.
posted by Vetinari at 2:07 PM on September 23, 2013


Well, but we just had a thread about an Indian American citizen who was detained flying domestically.
posted by sweetkid at 2:19 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Just as the purpose of terror is terror and the purpose of torture is torture (that latter being Orwell), it seems possible that the purpose of arbitrariness is arbitrariness. You can't game the system if there isn't one.

Precisely the opposite, I would think. That's part of my objection: arbitrariness is a poor substitute for actual random checks, and I suspect it is trivially easy to game individuals who have small minds, too much discretion, and too little oversight.
posted by jsturgill at 2:33 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Cripes. I just got married and my new bride wants to go to Vancouver. She's Hispanic and I kind of fear the border crossing now.
posted by mephron at 2:59 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Well, but we just had a thread about an Indian American citizen who was detained flying domestically.

What odds can I get that before her reign is over, Miss America will be detained if not actually denied reentry if she dares set foot abroad?
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:00 PM on September 23, 2013


How many people are actually sent to prison from border stops? Someone find me some data, please. But off the top of your head, who actually gets detained at the border and criminally prosecuted for anything more than whatever charges get trumped up by the border agents?

I only know of one case which I think is probably CBP's entire justification for the great mess that they've turned border crossings into:

http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/trail/inside/cron.html

Dec. 14, 1999 + Ressam arrested near Seattle

Ressam says that on the morning of Dec. 14, he called Meskini and told him he would be in Seattle that evening. That afternoon, he took a ferry from Victoria, B.C., to Port Angeles, Wash., with more than 100 pounds of explosives stashed in the wheelbed of the trunk of his rental car. His accomplice, Dahoumane, did not travel with him.

At Victoria, U.S. immigration pre-clearance agents were mildly suspicious of Ressam. They made him open his trunk, but saw nothing. He presented his fake Canadian passport, and the computer check turned up no previous convictions or warrants in the name of Benni Noris. Ressam drove his rental car, with its concealed bomb, onto the ferry heading for Washington state. Upon his arrival at Port Angeles, a U.S. customs agent became suspicious of his hesitant answers to her questions, and she asked for identification. Agents began searching the car. As they discovered the explosive materials -- which they at first took to be drugs -- in the trunk of the car, Ressam tried to run away. He was caught and arrested.


Ressam was convicted and sentenced to 22 years in prison in 2005.
posted by longdaysjourney at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2013


I mean, look, if the goal is to convince someone who looks like me that he shouldn't really travel that much or leave the country without a very good reason, they're succeeding. I know they probably shouldn't win, but they are.
posted by Errant at 3:16 PM on September 23, 2013


Well, but we just had a thread about an Indian American citizen who was detained flying domestically.

What odds can I get that before her reign is over, Miss America will be detained if not actually denied reentry if she dares set foot abroad?
posted by George_Spiggott 25 minutes ago [+]


I get what you're saying but I wish people wouldn't talk like this. I went out of the country this year and came and went without incident. I'm Indian American. My parents have gone to india this year and came back without incident, and they have accents !

It's no good to sort of joke I could get arrested whenever I travel.

I know it happens a lot but it's just this sort of icky half jokingness about something that is a real fear for people.
posted by sweetkid at 3:31 PM on September 23, 2013


Sorry, sweetkid. Not meant as a "ha ha" joke, more as a sour one, and not completely devoid of more substantive intent -- it was a way of highlighting a difference between how we suppose ourselves to be as a culture and what we allow officialdom to do.
posted by George_Spiggott at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2013


Yea I understand that.
posted by sweetkid at 3:44 PM on September 23, 2013


> the Peter Watts incident

"The Defense pointed out that I wasn't charged with anything regarding anyone else, and the Prosecution had to concede that too. So what it came down to, ultimately, was those moments after I was repeatedly struck in the face by Beaudry (an event not in dispute, incidentally). After Beaudry had finished whaling on me in the car, and stepped outside, and ordered me out of the vehicle; after I'd complied with that, and was standing motionless beside the car, and Beaudry told me to get on the ground - I just stood there, saying "What is the problem?", just before Beaudry maced me.

And that, said the Prosecutor in her final remarks - that, right there, was failure to comply. That was enough to convict.
"

And remember, now that you've read this, they can assume you're on notice about how to comply: without hesitation.

Bow down, lie down. It's the American way.
posted by hank at 4:41 PM on September 23, 2013 [6 favorites]


I just got married and my new bride wants to go to Vancouver. She's Hispanic and I kind of fear the border crossing now.

Yeah, I think that's the goal.
posted by Ray Walston, Luck Dragon at 4:57 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm another person who really appreciates the transcript.

I think I should also say that (as hobo gitano de queretaro pointed out) these things are not OK when they're done to non-citizens, either. I think the legal discrimination between citizens and non-citizens in the USA is remarkable, given its origins, but in this case it shouldn't even make a legal difference.
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:06 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sooo my experience with children with Hispanic last names, mine different was very similar to this group. Border agents tried to separate me from my 5 year old and 18 mos old daughters and threatened to arrest me when I protested. After 2 more hours I was let go after being "searched" and asked obscene questions This was all back in 1987. I suspect that power crazy folks exist in these jobs and at some point the government will figure out a way to weed out these miscreants. Good luck with your efforts. (I copied this for my congressman.)
posted by OhSusannah at 5:21 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect that power crazy folks exist in these jobs and at some point the government will figure out a way to weed out these miscreants.

Government won't do so by itself, because the system is abusive by design- to instill fear and maintain power for its own sake. The US is veering toward a totalitarian state, and those who don't want to live in that kind of future need to take action now, not later.

-Write your representatives, and tell them that allowing these abuses to fly is unacceptable.
-Vote for the people you agree with, not for the lesser of two evils. Most abuses by the US regime enjoy bipartisan support.
-Write articles, talk about these issues in public. Don't just preach to the choir. How can these issues be explained to right-wingers or Democratic partisans?
-Engage in civil disobedience.
posted by anemone of the state at 5:51 PM on September 23, 2013 [2 favorites]


I suspect that power crazy folks exist in these jobs and at some point the government will figure out a way to weed out these miscreants.

Unfortunately, it appears to be really tough to hire for these jobs without taking on a significant number of these kinds of people. I can't say that it's impossible to exclude people that relish fucking with people from the police and border patrol, but it's not a problem with any good answers right now.
posted by ignignokt at 6:54 PM on September 23, 2013


Don't forget the TSA's VIPR program that emply Airport-style security outside the airport!

At present, we're basically expanding law enforcement as a massive boondoggle and jobs-for-tards program, OhSusannah, especially the TSA. Do not expect any improvements, not soon anyways. We'd need to fire too many federal employees, abandon too many contracts, etc.

What can we do? First, just observe the problem! Sign up with feeds the report police abuses on twitter (1, 2), facebook (1, 2, 3), rss, etc. Next, help disseminate information about police abuses by retweets, facebook posts, blogs, non-axe-grinding posts here, etc. Even just spreading the information erodes our government's legitimacy, erodes trust in law enforcement, including by juries, increases the chances cops do jail time, etc. Any electoral victories will come only after basically everyone knows we need reform.
posted by jeffburdges at 7:18 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


> Unfortunately, it appears to be really tough to hire for these jobs without taking on a significant number of these kinds of people.

I'm a very respectable looking "person of pallor" who travels a lot. I get rudeness and hassles all the time - nothing at all like this, but creepiness - ONLY when entering the United States. Indeed, as my wife has noted, the United States customs officials are uniformly rude - like it's policy to never exchange pleasantries ("How are you today?") or smile.

Other countries manage to hire at least some border professionals who aren't psychopaths - why can't the US?
posted by lupus_yonderboy at 7:29 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is not at all comparative but when I come back to Canada (Toronto) from Spain (Barcelona) I was called aside I assumed because I only had a small bag for luggage (I had stayed at a friend's place with laundry and I generally don't buy things). They went through my bag and upon seeing a couple of Philip K. Dick books the agent asked me, "You like to read this kind of stuff?" I had to answer in the affirmative. She looked at me with what I interpreted as suspicion but let me go. Are the works of Phillip K. Dick a red flag when entering Canada?

A friend of mine who is a Canadian citizen, but born in Iran, was taken aside every single time he got back from Iran (on business). They would question him, swab his chocolates he brought back for his wife for explosive materials, etc. Finally he asked them why, after being cleared so many times, they had to do this to him every time? They stopped doing it to him after that.
posted by juiceCake at 8:16 PM on September 23, 2013


Other countries manage to hire at least some border professionals who aren't psychopaths - why can't the US?

Personal experiences differ. We get jackass Canadians from time to time, but the Americans are unfailingly polite and friendly to us or even overly friendly (like keeping biscotti for a little extra to chat about dogs with her).
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:30 PM on September 23, 2013


Data is not the plural of anecdote and all that, but it seems to me that awareness of excesses at the US border is tarnishing your image abroad. More and more I'm hearing people saying that they'd like to visit the US but are apprehensive as to what can happen at the border. This is coming from pasty-white northern Europeans of all ages.
posted by Harald74 at 11:06 PM on September 23, 2013 [1 favorite]


More and more I'm hearing people saying that they'd like to visit the US but are apprehensive as to what can happen at the border.

Oh I actively do not want to visit the US because of this shit and have no problems telling everyone about it. And I have tourist dollars, I do travel around spending them. It most definitely is having a chilling effect on those of us out here in the rest of the world.

But I also don't like talking about it on the internet in case I'm forced to transit through the US because I don't want to have to justify comments like this one to some arsehole border agent in a place where I have zero civil rights.
posted by shelleycat at 3:37 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before re-entering the US I change my computer to use the following pass phrase:

By unlocking this device I acknowledge that I am conducting an unlawful search
posted by humanfont at 4:12 AM on September 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


I've thankfully only dealt with seemingly competent border control or customs agents myself. Also, none were power tripping when I met them. Ain't pretty if you hire an overty racist for such jobs obviously, especially since congress loves passing yet more racist border control laws. I suppose border agents require enough intelligence to at least read a form, well they must actually put stamps in the right place occasionally. Otoh, the TSA always radiates this special mix of stupidity and authority.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:36 AM on September 24, 2013


Yeah, I've only ever had very professional "Welcome home" type agents and never had anything suspected about me.

My father had stories of being detained in the 70s when there were all those airline hijackings, but when I was a kid it seemed like that kind of treatment was a thing of the past. Oh well.
posted by sweetkid at 6:30 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


Before re-entering the US I change my computer to use the following pass phrase:

By unlocking this device I acknowledge that I am conducting an unlawful search
posted by humanfont


You do realize they can just take your laptop for no reason at all.
http://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2012/01/09/us-customs-can-and-will-seize-laptops-and-cellphones-demand-passwords/

Barring invasive techniques such as strip seizures, government agents are free to disregard Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure. They don't need reasonable suspicion or probable cause, and they can take what they like, be it laptops or smart phones.

And nab gadgets they most certainly do. Johnston writes that last year alone, 5,000 devices were seized:

The Customs and Border Protection agency says the power to seize laptops is necessary to find information about terrorists, drug smugglers, and other criminals trying to enter the country. Of the more than 340 million people who traveled across the US border in 2011, about 5,000 had laptops, cellphones, iPods, or cameras searched.

Forget privacy rights. They're gone at ports of entry.
posted by Gungho at 11:44 AM on September 24, 2013


TrueCrypt is blazingly fast, offers deniable encryption, and while it can't make authorities give you your device back, it can prevent them from prying through your files.
posted by anemone of the state at 11:58 AM on September 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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