Tag Archives: Civil Rights

US Customs Out of Control

Picture of Australian author Mem Fox
Mem Fox said she had never been spoken to with ‘such insolence’ by US Customs and Border Protection officers. Photo: AAP

Mosque attacks, Jewish cemeteries and now US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP). Alt-right racists and xenophobes were emboldened by the ascension of Trump. Now it appears that there are some CBP agents that have been emboldened as well. We all know that there is a psychological phenomenon of lower level government officials being granted investigatory and enforcement authority and having it go to their heads. It seems with Trump’s rhetoric, some CBP agents might as well be wearing Trump wigs and Make America Great Again baseball caps.

This needs to stop. The new chief of DHS, General Kelly, needs to make clear that enforcement of entry rules by CBP is fine–but overdoing it isn’t. In the past couple weeks, here’s just a few samples of what’s happened.

  • Muhammad Ali, Jr. (son of boxing legend Muhammad Ali) was questioned for two hours at Fort Lauderdale airport after returning from a trip to Jamaica with his mother. They asked him about the origin of his name and his religion. Perhaps the agent(s) were too young to know who his father was (he told them but that meant little to them). Obviously he’s not from one of the seven countries on Trump’s ridiculous travel ban.
  • Henry Rousso, a noted French Holocaust historian was detained for 10 hours at Houston International Airport. For a time, it seemed he would be deported. He too, is not from one of the seven countries and is, in fact, Jewish. He is associated with both Harvard and Columbia Universities. He has been coming to and from America for 30 years without incident. He was coming to America to present a lecture on “Writing in Dark Times,” at Texas A&M University. According to a CNN report,

    Rousso says an immigration officer told him he wasn’t “allowed to give a lecture and receive an honorarium” with his tourist visa. The US State Department allows foreign nationals to receive an honorarium under a tourist visa if they are a lecturer or a speaker and under certain guidelines, all of which Rousso met.

  • A Nigerian software engineer, Celestine Omin, was detained at JFK airport by CBP agents who reportedly asked questions intended to prove to their satisfaction that he really was a software engineer. Omin works for a startup tech firm, Andela, which recruits talent from Africa to assist American firms. He had a short-term visa allowing him to enter the US. See the story on Fortune/Tech.
  • Mem Fox, a celebrated children’s book author from Australia, was detained and questioned for two hours by CBP agents at LAX while enroute to address a conference in Milwaukee. She had been to the US 116 times but says she doesn’t plan on coming back. See the story here. She doesn’t look much like a terrorist in her picture, does she?
  • Juan Garcia Mosqueda, an Argentinian and owner of a New York art gallery, missed it’s opening after being detained at JFK for 14 hours and then sent back to Buenos Aires. The CNN story reports his claim that he was denied access to legal counsel, his bathroom visits were closely monitored and more. He is not a US citizen but has been a resident alien for ten years.
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“I Can’t Breathe”–Protests Are an American Tradition

Did the anti-war protests of the sixties and seventies hasten the end of the Vietnam War? In retrospect, probably not. They most certainly helped bring an end to the political career of Lyndon Johnson and bring on Richard Nixon as the next president in 1968. But I could hardly fail to participate in those protests, knowing what I did from spending the year between October 1967 and October 1968 in Vietnam . Did Rosa Parks bring Lyndon Johnson to confront the American South and shepherd the passage through Congress of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965? Not directly or by herself, but she started a parade of protests by countless others when she refused to move to the back of the bus in 1955. In the end, all of the protests did make a difference. Will the “I Can’t Breathe” protests have similar result—eliminating the impunity with which police officers can kill unarmed suspects? Who can say for sure, but the protests must continue. In 1849, Henry David Thoreau was imprisoned for refusing to pay a poll tax. While jailed, his friend Ralph Waldo Emerson visited him. He asked Thoreau, “Henry, what are you doing in there?” To which Thoreau replied, “Waldo, the question is what are you doing out there?” Thoreau in his civil disobedience (a published treatise) inspired Gandhi, who in turn inspired Martin Luther King. Nonviolent protest has a rich tradition in America. When an injustice occurs repeatedly, protests may be the one of the most effective tools at the citizen’s disposal, along with the ballot box, in generating a change.