It is always fun, as an immigrant in the U.S., to learn about yet another government body entrusted with the right to throw immigrants in detention for unlimited amounts of time. The Intercept reported today on the existence of a little-known Customs and Border Patrol task force, the Tactical Terrorism Response Team (TTRT) which subjects travelers that have already cleared immigration to extra screening.
One such traveler was Abkidadir Mohamed, who had a valid visa and traveled to Ohio from South Africa in December 2017 to be with his pregnant wife. The TTRT picked him up at the John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York, interrogated him, refused him a translator, and eventually decided that he was part of a terrorist group, one which doesn’t actually appear on the U.S. Department of State’s list of terrorist organizations.
According to the Intercept, the CBP officers “went through his phone and found a press release from a political organization called the Ogaden National Liberation Front,” which apparently fueled their poor decision-making (emphasis added):
In an affidavit submitted during immigration proceedings, a CBP officer who interrogated Mohamed claimed that he had admitted to being part of the Ogaden National Liberation Front and that he should have disclosed that to the U.S. Embassy during the visa process. The officer also claimed that Mohamed had admitted to originally traveling to South Africa from Somalia on forged documents, and that he had no fear of returning to Somalia. He also indicated that he was part of the TTRT and that Mohamed had been randomly selected for an additional interview while at JFK. For his part, Mohamed denies admitting to having been part of the group and says that he had been unable to even understand the CBP officer’s questions after being denied a translator. In their exchange, Mohamed told the officer that he was from the Ogaden clan in Somalia, a larger ethnic grouping distinct from the Ogaden National Liberation Front.
After this interrogation, Mohamed was then transferred to an ICE detention facility in New Jersey, where he has remained in detention since. For seventeen months. During that time, he developed noninfectious tuberculosis, was denied parole while his asylum claim is being adjudicated, and missed the birth of his second daughter.
Perhaps most disgusting of all is the statement ICE provided to the Intercept:
In response to a request for comment, an ICE spokesman said that “Abdikadir Mohamed, a Somali national illegally present in the U.S., is in ICE custody pending proceedings before the immigration court due to immigration violations,” and added, “ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care.”
Mohamed was not “illegally present in the U.S.”. He had a valid visa, which was stamped upon entry. It was only after that—after he left immigration to catch a connecting flight—that the TTRT picked him up. We have no idea how they initially came to the idea that Mohamed should be screened, or whether they had any evidence that he has ties to this group beyond the existence of a press release on his phone. And ICE has the temerity to say that he’s “illegally present” and made “immigration violations”—the only evidence for which seems to be this on-the-fly determination by a TTRT officer.
To reiterate: this is all after Mohamed had gone through all of the onerous requirements of the U.S. visa process.
They can do this because there isn’t much law at the border except the word of the CBP. This is how you get your phone searched for no reason. This is how you get Canadians get permanently barred from the United States because a CBP officer decided to ask them whether they have ever smoked pot, including in places where it’s legal, in their entire lives. (USCIS can also deny citizenship to individuals for marijuana possession, even in states where it’s legal.)
It’s not just at the border itself, either. Within 100 miles of any U.S. border, covering almost two thirds of the population, CBP has the legal right to question anyone about their legal status. This has included questioning a American citizen in Montana because they were “speaking Spanish in the store in a state where it’s predominately English-speaking,” and a 10-year-old pulled over on the way to emergency gallbladder surgery as part of road “checkpoints” in the Southwest.
I’m supposed to carry my valid immigration documents with me at all times to prove I’m here legally; if I forgot, according to the ACLU, I would be at risk of being arrested in one of those checkpoints. Apparently, running to the store to buy milk without a stack of papers within 100 miles of the U.S. border is a heinous offense. So why, then, were my husband and I waved through a roadside immigration checkpoint near Salton Sea in California in 2017 without any questions? Could that be because we’re both white?
Any Democrat who genuinely cares about immigrants will recognize that this is what you buy into when you appease Republican rhetoric on “securing the border.” It means entrusting power in the whims and dictates of individual border patrol agents, it means more terrorizing of even those immigrants who go through the oppressive proper channels, and it means more fathers missing the births of their daughters.