Border Patrol Hassles the Well Rested

seal_customs.jpgOn a recent road trip from L.A. to Austin, my car was pulled over and hassled by the Border Patrol. By “hassled”, I mean that our car was questioned for longer than a normal amount of time which I simply attributed to the fact that the car was full of colored hair Muslim punks. We were allowed to pass without getting out of the car or a dog search. It was confusing too, since we weren’t crossing any national borders, we were just close to the Texas and Mexico border.

My “hassled” is nothing compared to the detention that Hamdan Yousef experienced at the Canadian border. He has a fascinating narrative on it over at Huffington Post.

I was returning home on a Sunday evening from a leisurely drive to Canada two weeks ago, and the Customs and Border Protection officer in the booth had a blank look on his face…Moments later, my car had been surrounded by heavily armed agents dressed in black and I was being asked to hand over my keys and step out of my vehicle.

I had entered the legal netherworld of the border, and it would be an experience to remember.[huffpost]

Yousef is detained and questioned while his car is searched. He eventually gets frustrated and goes up to the counter to figure out what is going on.

Why don’t you have a seat, he replied. Only it didn’t sound like a question. I’m sorry, is that an order? Two other officers had joined him by now, Why don’t you have a seat, he repeated. I had a feeling that I was on the verge of getting Tasered or tackled, or both. In a burst of inspiration, I remembered something I had read in one of the pamphlets: “If you feel that the examination was not conducted in a professional manner, ask to speak with a supervisor immediately.” Ta-da. I’d like to speak with a supervisor, I announced triumphantly. [huffpost]

The supervisor let’s him go within minutes and he asked her why he was chosen to be questioned.

There were two main reasons, I was informed. The short duration of my stay had raised flags. “You left Michigan at 5 in the morning, drove around the interior of Ontario, and are coming back the same day.” And you look well-rested, she said, as if that had been the nail in the coffin. [huffpost]

In the big picture, the minor hassling that I experienced and that Yousef had are far less severe than those experienced by many members of our community. People get detained on a regular basis, though most of the stories that I’ve heard of are those of people getting detained in airports. It’s rarer to hear stories affecting the Muslim or South Asian community at the Canadian and Mexican borders, though they do happen.

If you thought the current Obama administration would change these policies, guess again.

The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search — without suspicion of wrongdoing — the contents of a traveler’s laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections.

The policy, disclosed Thursday in a pair of Department of Homeland Security directives, describes more fully than did the Bush administration the procedures by which travelers’ laptops, iPods, cameras and other digital devices can be searched and seized when they cross a U.S. border. And it sets time limits for completing searches. [wapo]

Road trippers near Canada and Mexico – you have been warned. I’m curious as to the percentage of Muslim/South Asian profiling that happens at the borders than at the airports. We are at the end of summer, does anyone have a Border Patrol story from a recent road trip?

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About Taz

Taz is an activist, organizer and writer based in California. She is the founder of South Asian American Voting Youth (SAAVY), curates MutinousMindState.tumblr.com and blogs at TazzyStar.blogspot.com. Follow her at twitter.com/tazzystar

34 thoughts on “Border Patrol Hassles the Well Rested

  1. I have been a victim – to some extent, too. I can’t disclose the complete scenario here, but I can tell you that some sort of South Asian profiling is going on. It has happened to two other friends as well. In fact, you don’t have to be travelling or anything. Cops will pay you a visit right at your doorstep and ask for your ‘papers’. They need some minor excuse for that.

  2. I have crossed the borders at least couple of dozen times between Canada and the United States in the last 8 years and never once faced any problems.

    Of course when I chosen to travel by air, I have not had any liquids with me, like a few of our desi brothers did in England a few years ago and I think 3 of them who did have get a new place to call home for the next several years But that a topic nobody wants to talk about.

    I really wish that people on the far left, would come up with there plans to keep the United States safe, instead of crying about what the Unites States has done the last 8 years to prevent any more attacks.

  3. I have had a handful of experiences myself – and sometimes the Canadian border guards are the ones who are more gruff / rude.

    I once was dropping off a friend at a greyhound station in Bellingham – they had us pull over, and wait – once they let us into the office, the US officer there took two seconds to ok the appropriate paperwork – but this was enough of a delay that we missed his bus and had to drive him directly to Seattle – why couldn’t the first officer ok this paperwork ? The questions he asked were off-putting as well, questioning why my friend had the right to go to school in the US.

    Some other friends claimed that some Canadian border guards asked them how they were supposed to know whether they were terrorists or not….What do you say to that ?

    For the longest time a few years ago, I had a streak of 5-6 times getting extra attention at the airports when travelling. Nothing serious recently since except for a missed flight in Sioux Falls, SD due to good ol’ 4 Ses on the boarding pass. Was travelling with family once and out of four of us, 2 got the 4 Ses (which indicate whether you need to be pulled aside for a hand inspection of your carry-on and body).

    I even had a situation where I got checked going in, had to change airlines, and got checked again when I went back through. I have no problem with vigilant security, but still can be embarrassing, frustrating and even humiliating when you keep getting ‘randomly’ selected over and over and over.

  4. First the anecdotes: I’ve never had any problems by land or air at the Canada/Us border. However, I’ve tried not to travel much since 9/11, just to lower the risk of an unpleasant experience. I also refer to all white people over the age of 10 as sir. Sometimes, this results in odd looks from women.

    Second the policy: Getting hassled cause you’re brown is going to be part of the territory for another few decades. Probably the rest of our lives. I understand the reasons. I just hope it is done with politeness, and that we are compensated for the burden we are bearing for North American whites. Maybe every brown person who crosses an international frontier shoudl be given $10 for the extra hassle they will receive. That sounds fair.

  5. I haven’t been hassled by Homeland Security yet except for one time when I was rushing in the last second and I think I got a boarding pass with an expired license by mistake. So far, i have been lucky that way.

    However, TSA is a big freaking joke. The liquids policy is one of the dumbest security policies. What prevents someone from taking potentially dangerous liquid chemicals in two separate 3 oz containers and then combining them after they cross security in a container they buy near the gate?What prevents two different passengers from combining them? It is simply the dumbest thing I have seen and it makes me embarrassed as a citizen to see our country join a few others in this ridiculous screening process. And when you are at the airport, you will hear in the background the colored alert guides like you are in some scifi Orwellian themed movie.

    FWIW, I get treated with more disrespect by cops than Homeland Security.

  6. If you thought the current Obama administration would change these policies, guess again. The Obama administration will largely preserve Bush-era procedures allowing the government to search — without suspicion of wrongdoing — the contents of a traveler’s laptop computer, cellphone or other electronic device, although officials said new policies would expand oversight of such inspections.

    Change you can believe in!

  7. Cops will pay you a visit right at your doorstep and ask for your ‘papers’. They need some minor excuse for that.

    Another bong, you or your friends might want to consider looking up some “Know your rights” materials on the Internet about your rights if the police come to your house or stop you during a traffic stop. Here is one for if they come to your house. It’s good to consult multiple sources to make sure you’re not getting wrong information and, if possible, to file a complaint if you think there’s racial profiling going on. (I would do it for myself if it’s not going to have negative repercussions for me (like additional visits) that I’m not willing to incur, but everyone’s standards are different.)

    For example:

    2) Do Not Let Them Enter Exit the house and close the door behind you before greeting the officer. Regardless of what the officer says, there is no reason they need to be allowed into your home. Permitting an officer to enter your home is the equivalent of waiving your Fourth Amendment right against unreasonable searches and seizures. Without a warrant, police officers absolutely cannot enter your home without your permission or an emergency circumstance that could justify their entry.
  8. Taz: “our car was questioned for longer than a normal amount of time”. For how long?

    My own experience was when coming back from a visit to Niagara Falls – my family was asked to stop for a security check. We were kept in the security clearance area for 3 hours! There was a whole bunch of fellow brownies and lot of hijabs. I was reminded of Kal Penn’s sarcastic line – “Random, huh?”. There were a few white peeps as well, perhaps for the border patrol to cover their asses. And then someone just called our names said that everything cleared out. When asked why they held us for 3 hours, we were told “because we can”. Really!

  9. i had an extremely lovely experience being hassled by…wait for it, wait for it…the Indian emigration officials! i’m american born and bred, look like any other young desi gal, have a Hindu name and was traveling with my white friend (female) out of Mumbai when I was hassled by an official who looked at my passport, read it to clearly state my birthplace as a podunk town in a Southern US state, then proceeded to ask me:

    “Why are you going to the US?” “Why do you live there?” “Where is your green card?” (WTF! I told you I’m a citizen and so did my passport!) “Who do you know in the US?”
    “Are you Indian?” “Oh, I’m asking because you look Indian.” (MEGA WTF!!!)

    What an arsehole. Meanwhile, my white friend looked on in horror for at least 15-20 minutes worrying if she’d be flying back alone, lol.

  10. @ nefarious degas

    Something similar happened to my Mum this year when we coming back from holiday! The Indian emigration official doesn’t bother me, my brother or my dad about our UK passports, but for some reason picks on her, asking her how long she’s living in the UK and why has she got a British passport, where is her Indian passport (“Er..at home?”). Btw, its pretty clear that we all “look Indian” so why he specifically singled out my Mum I have no clue.

  11. Is it over sensitization and victim-hood? A cop asking questions because he feels something? By definition 99.9% of such “feels” should be nothing, but thank god he catches those 0.1% cases.

  12. Van Jones should take over this department. He obviously knows how to run things and knows who are the real terrorists.

  13. When you feel oppressed by the man, make a trip to Leeds Bradford, preferably on or behind a PIA flight. Such polite customs & immi people! Last time I was there, I got stuck behind a man and his two wives. His paperwork? To quote the lyric left incomplete by Dr. A, the brotha had 99 problems but a b*** wasn’t one. In other news, dog bites man.

  14. No hassles, but only bizarre questions from the immigrations officer at airport, like: officer: “Who is coming to pick you up ?” me: “A friend” off: “Is it a guy or girl ? ” me:” A guy” off:” Are you planning to marry him ?” me: WTF (in my mind) “of course not”

    This same questionnaire has been asked twice to me…bizarre!!

  15. I had to laugh really hard, zee (#17). Was it at Heathrow, by chance?

    I had just landed in the UK last year, and the immigration officer (desi of course.. more desis I’ve seen than anywhere else!), and I was asked questions like (I kid you not):

    “Why are you here?” (to visit friends)

    “is it a ‘he’ friend or a ‘she’ friend?”

    “Are you married?” (No)

    “Are you looking to get married?” (why, you have anyone in mind?!)

    This year, my parents and I flew over to England to attend a wedding.. and we stuck with the tried and tested “viting friends” and staying at a hotel in Paddington.

    My other brother who had come earlier to attend the same wedding was grilled non-stop when he informed them that he had come ‘a wedding’… and then they kept on asking him if HE was planning to get married instead. They wouldn’t believe that the poor guy already had a pregnant wife and child at home so it didn’t help his case at all.

    No such thing as randoms in CN/US/UK/anywhere.. if you mention weddings, they are convinced it’s gonna be your own and you plan on camping in their countries for good.

  16. My American wife was asked ridiculous questions when we went to India to get married. I was asked questions like “where did you meet?”, “do you think she’ll adjust to OUR culture”. So border and immigration folks seem to share the same idiocy – irrespective of nationality.

    And Taz, as requested by someone earlier, you should elaborate on how you were hassled. You have compared yourself with Hamdan Yousef who was detained (your feeble attempt of drawing a distinction notwithstanding) – your write up is comprised primarily of that person’s woes. You sound like someone who was inconvenienced by border patrol and chose to use your access to this blog for making it sound like a big deal. More like “I got a speeding ticket – can others share their experiences with police brutality?”. Of course, if you can elaborate, it will put your experience in context for us.

  17. And Taz, as requested by someone earlier, you should elaborate on how you were hassled.

    I included a link in the blog to my experience – you can click through if you are oh so interested – I didn’t want to elaborate about my personal experience here at SM because I wanted this post to be about Yousef’s experience, not me. It isn’t a 1:1 comparison post – it’s a post where I intro-ed with my insignificant personal experience to draw people into the main story of Yousef. As mentioned in this post, my version of “hassled” is nothing in comparison to what yousef and what most people experience.

    If you don’t like it, you know what to do – Go start your own blog.

  18. By definition 99.9% of such “feels” should be nothing, but thank god he catches those 0.1% cases.

    This argument amounts to saying that the police departments are doing a good job whose practices are so poor that they question 999 people who have nothing to do with anything for every one person that they ask who’s guilty. That’s a pretty low standard for competence, even before you start questioning what the demographics of the 999 people involved. It’s also self-reinforcing – someone who gets stopped by the police allt he time might be a little more nervous, which means they’re more likely to be in that 999 people.

    It’s a waste of police resouces, a waste of time, creates more mistrust, damages community relations, creates a culture of impunity for the police (i.e. ‘Giuliani time’) and is tantamount to excusing institutional or direct racism when the world has enough problems in it already. I’d rather have some standards for civilians who are allowed to carry around firearms and asked to use them. It’s not fair to them or us not to.

  19. Dr Amonymous–Don’t go to Jay-Z for legal advice. Locking the glove box and the trunk doesn’t help much. :)

  20. Suki (#2)

    Of course when I chosen to travel by air, I have not had any liquids with me, like a few of our desi brothers did in England a few years ago and I think 3 of them who did have get a new place to call home for the next several years But that a topic nobody wants to talk about. I really wish that people on the far left, would come up with there plans to keep the United States safe, instead of crying about what the Unites States has done the last 8 years to prevent any more attacks.

    Glenn Greenwald has an article which discusses exactly this point of view

    In 2006, when the British police — using (among other things) electronic surveillance conducted by both the U.S. and British Governments — thwarted a Terrorist plot to blow up transcontinental airplanes over the Atlantic Ocean, right-wing polemicists everywhere claimed that this was vindication for the Bush/Cheney warrantless eavesdropping program. But there was one rather enormous problem with that claim: namely, the surveillance in question was entirely legal, conducted by obtaining warrants under the supervision of the FISA court where required by law.
  21. Dr. A,

    I am aware that they can’t search my apt w/o warrent. However, I produced the ‘paperwork’ [not allow them to come inside] right away to avoid further repercussions, especially since my friend and I believed it was something arranged by our apt-manager who frequently tried to create issues for us.

  22. The US government has been asserting extraordinary powers to stop and search people within 100 miles of the border. I know a whackaloon preacher (in fact, the same preacher who is praying for Obama’s death) who got Tased by the Border Patrol earlier this year near Yuma when he was, shall we say, less than cooperative with the BP’s request that he allow them to search his car. The American Civil Liberties Union calls it a “Constitution-Free Zone.” http://www.aclu.org/privacy/spying/areyoulivinginaconstitutionfreezone.html

    That might be a tiny bit of hyperbole, but it’s unsettling when you’re just driving around in Southern Arizona, minding your own business, and the BP thinks you should be searched. Just Because.

  23. For Canada, south asians just dont represent a terror threat, but a drug threat.

    There are alot of members of the Indian community that are involved in drug trafficking into Canada from places like Mexico.

    Alot of them wear any successful drug trafic as a badge of honor. They will point to a brand new Lexus they bought and say “that’s one trip” meaning I bought this with the money I made from one trip from the USA into Canada with drugs.

  24. The most hilarious statement I heard from a young thug wanna-be a few years ago, when I asked him what he did for a living, he replied, nodding his head and speaking with a bragging deep voice:

    “Import / Export…don’t worry about it”….

  25. Dr. A, I am aware that they can’t search my apt w/o warrent. However, I produced the ‘paperwork’ [not allow them to come inside] right away to avoid further repercussions, especially since my friend and I believed it was something arranged by our apt-manager who frequently tried to create issues for us.

    You deal better with stressful situations than I would :) Anyway, was just sharing information – I definitely think people should make use of it in ways that make the most sense to them.

  26. Upon arrival in India in early ’05, we were asked by an overweight security agent to have our carry on bags scanned as we were headed towards baggage claim, well after customs. Besides the scanner being off (TV viewer was off), the other problem was that the dude didn’t even look at the screen. Power-trips certainly happen everywhere.

  27. My experiences flying have fortunately not been too bad. I was singled out once for a “random” search, from LAX to Detroit. Granted, looking back, it was a one way ticket, so perhaps a brown guy, single, with a one way ticket across the US could raise a flag.

    I have to say I hate Heathrow and the Desi security folks there are rude and arrogant. Granted, I found some of the white people at King Cross to be a$$ holes as well. It must be a London thing.

    Other than that no real problems. I was pulled over once when driving. When I asked why, the cop responded condescendingly whether I knew what tailgating meant as though I cannot speak English. But in all honesty I do have a bad habit and tendency to follow a little to closely behind other cars. I’ve been stopped other times driving but I’ve generally been at fault. A few times, I’ve even been let off with just a warning so overall my own personal interactions with cops in the US hasn’t been bad. I haven’t crossed the US/Canadian border much, except for a few trips with family years ago. We did cross once or twice over the past 8 years, and faced no problems. I haven’t crossed alone, so I can’t comment on that. Same goes with the US/Mexico border.

    I don’t have problems profiling on particular characteristics or behavior, but race by itself just doesn’t strike me as effective. Looking back, I can’t complain about the LAX screening, because it was quick and they were polite. From the article linked the border agents sounded incredibly ignorant (and the questions asked were incredibly stupid and inane) but I guess they were set off by Pakistan stamps in the passport. That alone will likely do it nowadays.