A Muslim-American mayor in New Jersey was racially and religiously profiled by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers at New York's John F. Kennedy (JFK) International Airport.
Syrian-born Mohamed Khairullah fled Syria to Saudi Arabia with his parents in 1980, and then to the U.S. in 1991 where he was awarded citizenship in 2000. He's been the mayor of Prospect Park - a borough in New Jersey - since 2005 as he's been reelected by residents year after year.
Khairullah was detained for three hours at JFK after returning from a family vacation in Turkey last month. He mentioned that during those hours, he was questioned by CBP officers on whether or not he knew of any terrorist cells in Turkey or if he had personally met with any terrorist during his trip. He was also asked for personal details such as his mother's name, college education, occupation, and previous travels.
According to CBS News, the family had already missed their initial flight to Turkey in July due to an issue with the TSA (Transportation Security Administration). The next day, when they returned to the airport, the family made sure to have a sufficient amount of time for customs as they did not expect the screening process to take nearly five hours.
"It's flat-out insulting," Khairullah said. "It's flat-out stereotyping of Muslims and Arabs. It was definitely a hurtful moment where I'm thinking in my mind that this is not the America that I know. I am very familiar with our laws and Constitution, and everything that was going on there was a violation."
As part of their search, the CBP confiscated Khairullah's phone. Twelve days later, the mayor was finally able to take back his property after the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) took action, negotiating for its return.
The CAIR litigation director, Ahmed Mohamed, stated: "There is absolutely no evidence how this type of questioning, how religious profiling in this manner, protects our country a single bit." One of the major issues Khairullah is facing is the CBP possibly downloading all the content present on his phone. According to Mohamed, "Not only is it a constitutional violation of the mayor's rights, but that's going to turn into a continuing violation."
In response to these remarks, a CBP spokesperson told The Hill, "While we are not at liberty to discuss an individual's processing due to the Privacy Act, our CBP officers are charged with enforcing not only immigration and customs laws, but they also enforce over 400 laws for 40 other agencies and have stopped thousands of violators of U.S. law."
They added that "For a minuscule number of travelers, this inspection may include electronic devices such as computers, disks, drives, tapes, mobile phones and other communication devices, cameras, music, and other media players and any other electronic or digital devices. CBP is keeping Americans safe by enforcing our nation's laws in an increasingly digital world depends on our ability to lawfully inspect all materials—electronic or otherwise—entering the United States."
Bill Pascrell Jr., a representative of Khairullah's district, reacted to this information, asserting "We have heard too many reports of Americans being harassed for their names, their skin colors, and their national ancestries. Americans must stand up against this devolution as one community, one people, one nation."
Last month, a Dearborn Heights activist for Muslims, Tarek Bazzi, was attempting to board a flight to Lebanon when a CBP officer pulled him aside and began asking him a barrage of questions such as "Where are you going?", "Where will you be staying?", "Any family in Lebanon?" etc.
The activist says he was mentally prepared to be stopped, and therefore after an onslaught of questions, he realized he had already answered "more than they deserved."
"I chose to share this experience because we are living in a time period where Muslims and Arab Americans are being targeted on every front and the airports are some of the most common places of this discrimination," Bazzi explained.