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The profiling of a Somali-American woman

We have seen how David Miranda was questioned for nine hours and had his electronic equipment taken from him by British security forces in the transit area of Heathrow airport. This article describes how the NSA actually pays the British secret service to spy on their behalf because the British have weaker regulations of their government officials’ actions.

But we should not forget that ordinary people are also targeted and subjected to interrogations at airports without any basis for suspicion other than perhaps their ethnicity.

Kadra Abdi, a young Somali-American woman, describes her experience when she returned from a trip to Sweden to speak at a conference. Despite the fact that the US Embassy in Stockholm sponsored her trip, she was targeted for special treatment on her return.

I traveled back to Minneapolis on Sunday, June 9. Upon my return, a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) Officer at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport conducted an unnecessary, unjustified, illegal, and degrading search.

The Officer said my name and country of origin were “red flags” and that people with my name do “bad things.” He said “there is always an issue when people are entering the United States.” Simply put, I was the target of racial, ethnic, and religious profiling.

My ethnic and religious background raised a red flag for the officer, and I was profiled based on my identity—not because of anything I had actually said or done.

The officer was clearly searching for, and intent on finding, something more. He threatened to find something in my luggage to use against me. His language was demeaning, and he would not let me speak. He did not like that I challenged and questioned his approach. And when I insisted on real answers to my questions, he responded in a very slow, degrading manner. He also kept repeating himself, at which point, I asked why he was speaking in a condescending manner to me. This only infuriated him more.

At this point, I asked the officer for a complaint card, and he threatened to make notes on my passport. He said if I complained about the incident, he would lie in order to ensure that I have a difficult time whenever I travel in the future.

When I asked for his name, he refused at first and then gave me his last name only: Brooks. Officer Brooks began to shout at me, saying, “If you file a complaint against me, I will write things in our system about you.” His threat and refusal to provide me with his full name was alarming.

There is no getting away from the fact that we have little or no rights at ports of entry into a country and that the security officers at these places know this and feel free to abuse their power.

Comments

  1. CaitieCat says

    This, for me, is one of the most obvious examples of white privilege: that generally speaking, white people do not face this kind of profiling. And most will never even think of it, because they’ve never had to face that kind of profiling. And we get it whether we want it or not, whether we’re allies to POC or not, whether we’re feminist or not. There’s no way to “turn it down”, or insist on not getting it; all shouting will do is get you a better look at the number of POC to whom this does happen regularly.

  2. says

    Thank you very much for posting about this. I have generally felt fine while traveling, but there were two instances when I felt that security had singled out my family and myself due to either race or our names. Fortunately, it did not result in the same kind of rudeness or threats to put notes on our files as described here.

    @CaitieCat (comment #2): I very much agree. As there has been news about various government agencies spying on everyone and violating civil liberties, I can’t help remembering that this kind of violation of rights was already happening, only targeted at certain groups of people. It’s of course horrible no matter who it’s done to, but there are those who think it somehow becomes okay if only people of certain backgrounds are targeted or profiled.

  3. CaitieCat says

    Thanks, Ani. I noticed it myself once, back before I’d gotten my ID changed to match my presentation. My then-partner and I took the train from Toronto to NYC, and when we crossed the border, it was hard not to notice that the people who were pulled from the train for further inspection were of a uniformly not-white skin tone.

    Whereas I, whose ID clearly indicated that my presentation, at least, was different from that of the ID, got no more than a quick double-take on my passport, and a nod that we were clear and good to go.

    So even when I had questionable ID, I wasn’t pulled out for further suspicion; the PoC on the train were. It was hard not to notice pretty much every brown person on the train standing in the rain on the platform, while the white people were all safely inside staying dry.

    This was in April of 2003, right around the time the war in Iraq started, so it was all the more stark than it is even now, but it was a real eye-opener for me, about the ways that it doesn’t matter whether I’m the best, most conscientious ally that ever walked the face of the planet, I’m never going to be treated the same way as PoC are, and nothing I can do can make that individual (and hard to notice, often – how do you notice things that don’t happen, when you’ve no experience that they could happen) privilege go away, short of fighting the whole system.

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