The New York Times profiled Syed Ali, an NYPD officer, combat vet, and major in the U.S. Army Reserve who was detained for hours at J.F.K. last month after a trip to Istanbul, just one of the hundreds of Muslims—or brown folks perceived to be Muslim—“who have complained that since the start of the Trump administration they have been subjected to additional scrutiny when returning from abroad.” As a military officer who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Officer Ali never suspected he would be facing an ordeal just trying to get out of customs back in the U.S., saying “the federal government has my DNA on record. The government, they know every little nook and cranny about me.” But when he began to question immigration agents about why he was being detained for so long, he was threatened with arrest:
After an hour and a half of waiting, Officer Ali began to wonder what the holdup was. “I do identity checks all the time,” he said. “If I’m digging hard and digging deep, I might spend at most 15 minutes.”
That was when he asked the officer who had taken his passport what his status was. “I said, ‘Yes, ma’am, no, ma’am,’ when I spoke to her because that’s what I was taught,” Officer Ali said. She responded with the threat to lock him up, he said.
After that, half a dozen officers surrounded him “as if they’re going to intimidate me or take me down,” he said. “Honestly I think the only reason they didn’t stick me in a cell is it wouldn’t look good to stick a major and a cop in a cell.”
Daniel Hetlage, a spokesman for Customs and Border Protection, said privacy laws prevented the agency from discussing individual cases. “Officers strive to treat all people arriving in the country with dignity and respect,” he said.
Well, that’s debatable. The Times also mentions the March case of Hassan Aden, a North Carolina police chief and former contractor with the Department of Justice who was detained for nearly two hours at that same airport, all because of his Arabic name. “This experience has left me feeling vulnerable and unsure of the future of a country that was once great and that I proudly called my own,” he wrote at the time.
As for Officer Ali, he’s not worried about himself: “I’m more concerned with, what is the average citizen going through? It’s happening to other people and it’s probably a lot worse.” Honorable words coming from a man attacked by the actions of a dishonorable administration. The rest of Officer Ali’s profile is a must-read here.