Are you on The List?
Makes for a slightly spooky, very sad read.
You get in line where it says “US citizens” and await your turn to have your passport stamped by the Customs agent. As you come up to his cubicle you are relieved to see that the smiles really are there. The agent greets you with a “Welcome home!” as he takes your passport. As he scans it, he asks you the typical questions: “Where were you? How long did you stay? What was the purpose of your visit?” The problem is that all of a sudden the smile disappears and they don’t really seem to be paying attention to your rambling on about the crazy drivers in Rome. They seem taken aback by some ominous message which appears to have come up on their computer. The poor agent in fact looks very distraught at whatever it is he sees. He reads it again to be sure. Then he tells you in a very serious voice, the smile long having faded, that you need to step to the wall or to the side and wait for another “agent”.
“Is there a problem?” you ask in a concerned voice. “No, just a random check,” comes the traditional reply. You are then led to a room by a not-so-smiley “agent” who clearly appears to have no interest in small talk. About all he does is reiterate the “random check” line you were given before. He leads you over to the luggage claim area and stands back while you reclaim all the luggage they will soon pore over with a fine tooth comb. After a tense 15 minutes awaiting your bags, you are then led to a room off to the side – in some cases behind an ominous one-way mirror – where you discover several other Muslims who have also been selected for this “random” humiliation and degradation. Concerned eyes of other passengers you accompanied on the plane follow you all the way until you are behind the one-way mirror.
You are gruffly told to take a seat by your latest handler for what looks like a long wait. As you scan the room, you are saddened by the terrified looks of hijabis in their 50s and 60s who look like they could be your mother. What could they have possibly done to be treated like this? For that matter, what could any of us have done? The “war on terror” takes more collateral damage it appears.
After a wait of anywhere from 30 minutes to over an hour, the “agent” who brought you here asks you to come over to a steel table where they proceed to take every item out of your bags to do a thorough search. Any paper with any addresses, phone numbers, names or other information of a personal nature is taken for photocopying. God forbid you should have anything in Arabic other than a Qur’an because that too will need to be taken for photocopying and can increase your detention and interrogation time to hours. While they scour through your personal belongings, they do their version of “casual” interrogation. Every question is usually asked twice during the questioning to ensure that you aren’t lying or making anything up. They at last come to the contents of your pockets. Be ready to surrender your driver’s license and credit cards for “photocopying” as well. Don’t worry though – it’s all just “random”.
After that ordeal, which seems very adept at making most everyone who goes through it feel like a criminal even if they never even had a parking ticket, you are commanded to once again sit among the other randomly selected (read Muslim) passengers. It is not uncommon to have another agent come and request your connecting flight information, “because it looks like we will need to book you on a later flight”. You may be emboldened by this point, if not before, to ask why this keeps happening to you if you are a frequent international traveler, but you will only get the same “it’s random” response. You will not be offered any information to help make any sense out of this whole experience, nor a method for resolving whatever seems to be the issue.
Once everything seems to have cleared to CBP’s satisfaction, you are then “free to go.” Sorry if there are no more connecting flights and you have to spend the night in whatever city you are, or if your family is worried sick because you are several hours late because you can’t use your phone until after you pass the screening area. In fact, you should be grateful for this new addition to national security.
Those of you who have never experienced this may wonder if there is a wee bit of exaggeration in this article, but unfortunately the above-mentioned phrases are based on personal experiences of several Muslims in the past six months. This article is designed to make those of you not on the infamous “terror watch list” or “no-fly list” aware of what does happen to the rest of us and to help guide those who are wrongly on this list to a pathway to legally get off and feel human again."