Democracy Now!

Wed Mar 22, 2017

Meet 2 U.S. Citizens Detained at Airports: A Police Chief and a Lawyer Who Sued Trump Administration

A growing number of U.S. citizens are sharing accounts of having been detained at airports across the country since the start of the Trump administration. Boston-based civil rights attorney Iván Espinoza-Madrigal says he was returning home on March 12 from a vacation in Portugal when he was detained at Boston’s Logan Airport. A day later, the former police chief of Greenville, North Carolina, Hassan Aden, says he was detained for over an hour by Customs and Border Protection agents when he was flying into New York City’s JFK International Airport after returning from visiting his mother in Paris. The two join other U.S. citizens, including a U.S. Olympic medalist, a NASA scientist and the son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali, who have all been detained at airports across the country since the start of the Trump administration. For more, we’re speak with Iván Espinoza-Madrigal and Hassan Aden.

AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to what seems to be a growing chorus of U.S. citizens sharing accounts of having been detained at airports across the country since the start of the Trump administration.

Boston-based civil rights attorney Iván Espinoza-Madrigal says he was returning home on March 12th from a vacation in Portugal, when he was detained at Boston’s Logan Airport. In an article in The Huffington Post, Espinoza-Madrigal, who was born in Costa Rica, explains that he has lived in the U.S. for three decades, became a citizen, oh, 20 years ago, in 1996. He writes, quote, "It is disempowering and dehumanizing to have government officials question my citizenship and passport. My citizenship is not only a legal status; it is deeply rooted in my identity. ... If my personal experience at Logan is any indication, airport inspections are now targeting not only Muslims, but other minorities—including U.S. citizens—for 'extreme vetting.'"

A day later, the former police chief chief of Greenville, North Carolina, says he was detained for over an hour by Customs and Border Protection agents when he was flying into New York City’s JFK Airport after returning from visiting his mother in Paris. In a Facebook post, he wrote he was a U.S. citizen and had worked in law enforcement in the U.S. for nearly 30 years. Hassan Aden wrote that after his detention, quote, "This country now feels cold, unwelcoming, and in the beginning stages of a country that is isolating itself from the rest of the world and its own people in an unprecedented fashion."

Espinoza-Madrigal and Aden now join us, along with many other citizens, including a U.S. Olympic medalist, a NASA scientist, the son of a boxing legend, Muhammad Ali Jr., who have all been detained at airports across the country since the start of the Trump administration. For more, we’re joined by Iván Espinoza-Madrigal and Hassan Aden.

Hassan Aden, let’s begin with you. You’re the former police chief of Greenville, North Carolina. Talk about what happened to you at JFK.

HASSAN ADEN: So, I had spent a weekend in Paris celebrating my mom’s 80th birthday and returned back to the United States. I was looking forward to seeing my family and, you know, getting back to work and doing my thing. And everything was business as usual. You know, I got off my flight, went through the automated passport check, got my customs sheet printed out. And I walked up and handed my passport to a CBP agent, who barely even looked up at me. He scanned my passport, looked at me, asked me if I was traveling alone. I responded "yes." And then he stood up and said, "Let’s take a walk"—my first red flag that something was not—was not the same as always. I travel frequently. I travel internationally. I travel nationally weekly, multiple times. And I have never, ever been stopped by CBP. And this is not to say that I don’t support and really appreciate the mission of CBP. They have a difficult job with lots of complexities. But the detention is the piece that I question, and the length of the detention.

So, I was taken back to a room, that was a makeshift office that appeared to be some sort of a storage room. And for the next hour and a half, they held my passport. I questioned whether I was being detained, and the original officer that took me back there said, "No, this is not a detention." There are lots of—lots of different arguments about that. I was clearly not free to leave. And eventually I was released. It took about 90 minutes. And it took one very respectful and helpful customs agent, or customs, yeah, agent, that she started her shift, and she took an interest in my case, because what I imagine she saw was a lot of foreign nationals being brought in and released in about five minutes after their passports were vetted, and I was just sitting there for about 90 minutes. And finally, she helped me get my—whatever the vetting was, done, and I was on my way.

But really, the issue for me here is the policies of CBP, and something has changed. As I have stated, I travel internationally frequently. And it’s always been a welcoming home, something that I always look toward when I get off my flight. Customs agents have always been polite, say, "Welcome back to the United States. Welcome home." Not the case. And this was the first time that I’ve traveled internationally in 2017.

AMY GOODMAN: They took your phone?

HASSAN ADEN: No.

AMY GOODMAN: You had your phone in your possession at all times?

HASSAN ADEN: I had my phone in my possession at all times. However, I was restricted from using it. There were two signs that were very, very clear in what they wanted you to do. One was remain seated at all times. And two, use of mobile devices and telephones strictly prohibited—another sign that I was actually being detained.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to bring in Iván Espinoza-Madrigal. Talk about your own experience.

IVÁN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: Thank you, Amy. My experience was somewhat similar. I was returning home from a vacation in Portugal, and I went through the passport control line, like usual. And the difference here is that instead of asking me, you know, "Where were you? How long were you gone for? Are you bringing any fruit and vegetables?" what the officer did is that he looked at me very suspiciously, as if I had done something wrong, and took my passport, left the kiosk and proceeded to confer with a couple of other CBP officers, returned, asked me questions like "Where did you get this passport? Who gave you this passport? Where does this passport come from?" clearly indicating that the authenticity of my passport was at issue, that there was some notion that my passport may be fake or invalid in some fashion, and questioning my citizenship and the fact that I have this U.S. passport.

At that point, the passport was scanned through the CBP system, clearly confirming my identify and that that passport was issued by the U.S. Passport Agency in New York. And instead of releasing me at that time, what the officer did was to escalate the matter by calling over another CBP officer to escort me to a separate security room, where my vetting continued and where I was asked to produce additional proof of identity so that they can confirm who I was. This is the first time that I traveled since the inauguration, and it was the first time ever that I had been subjected to this type of additional scrutiny and vetting. The last time I traveled was in January, right before the inauguration. And I came in through the country perfectly fine, like any other U.S. citizen.

AMY GOODMAN: So, well, let me ask you something, Iván. Your group sued President Trump this year on behalf of the—

IVÁN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: —cities of Lawrence and Chelsea in Massachusetts over the president’s executive order defunding sanctuary cities?

IVÁN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: That’s right. We sued on February 8th. My organization was the first one in the country to sue on behalf of sanctuary communities. We represent two heavily immigrant towns in Massachusetts that are being threatened by the Trump administration for defunding based under immigrant-friendly policies. And the lawsuit is the only one in the East Coast at this time. This litigation was very important, because we need to protect all families and children in our communities. And so, it’s very important for my organization to be out there right now, at a time of significant federal uncertainty, protecting families. And to be treated as suspect at the airport was incredibly, not just humiliating, but unpowering, when my job, day to day, is to protect immigrant families.

AMY GOODMAN: Last month, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said the president wanted to "take the shackles off" the nation’s immigration and customs agents.

PRESS SECRETARY SEAN SPICER: The president needed to give guidance, especially after what they went through in the last administration, where there were so many carve-outs that ICE agents and CBP members didn’t—had to figure out each individual, whether or not they fit in a particular category and they could adjudicate that case. The president wanted to take the shackles off individuals in these agencies and say, "You have a mission. There are laws that need to be followed. You should do your mission and follow the law."

AMY GOODMAN: Hassan Aden, your thoughts on what he’s saying? Do you see this—I mean, you’re law enforcement. Do you see this as an unshackling of law enforcement?

HASSAN ADEN: Well, they took the shackles off of CBP and placed them on others, U.S. citizens and others that are subjected to this kind of conduct now. It is humiliating, as Iván stated. It is a position of—you know, it just—it makes you extremely vulnerable, and you have no idea what is happening to you at the time that it’s happening. The reason why I really wanted to bring this up, and very publicly, was because there are so many people that are voiceless. Iván and I both have voices and platform, and I think that it is our responsibility to shed light on this problem.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, do you think you were targeted because of the lawsuit?

IVÁN ESPINOZA-MADRIGAL: I’m not sure. I don’t know what they were thinking. But what I know is that one of the greatest strengths of this country is that we do not have classes of citizenship. All citizens have the same rights and privileges. And that was certainly not my experience at the airport. So, for whatever reason it was, whether I was targeted for my civil rights advocacy or based on the color of my skin and my identity, it’s unconstitutional and un-American.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Hassan Aden, you’re familiar with databases that law enforcement use, as a former police chief. What database do you think you’re in?

HASSAN ADEN: I’m not sure. I do think that—I believe—I was never told that by CBP, but I believe it’s some sort of—what I was told was that my name was used as an alias and that some database flagged it. So I believe it’s something to do with a terrorist watchlist or fusion center. But what I do know is that one of three things is going on with this database. One, either the database is—

AMY GOODMAN: We have five seconds.

HASSAN ADEN: There’s a problem with the database and the policies behind it. It should not take 90 minutes to clear someone holding a U.S. passport.

AMY GOODMAN: Hassan Aden, former chief of police of Greenville, North Carolina, detained at JFK. Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice, detained at Logan Airport in Boston.

That does it for our broadcast. Happy birthday to Miriam Barnard!

Filed under: Racism, Immigration

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