My Detainment Story or: How I Learned To Stop Feeling Safe In My Own Country and Hate Border Agents

Friday, February 28, 2014


Back in September, OTM producer Sarah Abdurrahman, her family, and her friends were detained for hours by US Customs and Border Protection on their way home from Canada. Everyone being held was a US citizen, and no one received an explanation. Sarah tells the story of their detainment, and her difficulty getting any answers from one of the least transparent agencies in the country.


Khaled Ahmed, Sofyan Amry, Catherine Crump, Abdulla Darrat, Alaa Elharezi, Munia Jabbar, Ahmad Kadura, James Lyall and Richard Misztal

Hosted by:

Bob Garfield and Brooke Gladstone

Produced by:

Sarah Abdurrahman

Comments [35]

Lean To Shed Plans from poston

Very Good work..
Lean To Shed Plans

Jan. 23 2016 11:38 AM
Francisco from Newcastle upon Tyne, UK

I wish I could comment on the whole programme but, after hearing all the examples, I don't think I will ever visit the US if I can help. That's a shame as I've met a few Americans online and would like to meet them.

I was almost afraid to post this as I can't be sure that saying something like this won't mean that I'd be singled out for special measures for not agreeing that everything that DHS does is double plus good (which is why it's taken me until Thursday to pluck up the courage to write this).

Mar. 06 2014 04:09 PM
Robert Tayac from Detroit, MI

In 2011, I represented a client in a first offense driving under the influence case in the San Francisco Bay Area. He appeared at all court appearances and paid all fines. More than two years later, he was returning from a business trip in the Middle East. My client is culturally Jewish.

He entered the United States in Detroit from Paris and was detained for forty-eight (48) hours by uniformed and plain clothes federal agents. Upon release, he was given a piece of binder paper directing him to report to the director of the TSA in his home state. No document, form or business card was provided to him and the detaining agent(s) were not identified.

Robert Tayac

Mar. 05 2014 08:52 PM
Tom Mylan from Brooklyn, NY

Myself and my business partner were detained at the border for over two hours on our way back from a quick trip to Montreal to eat and check out the public markets there. We were treated rudely and had our car taken apart. Even after being cleared we were treated like criminals. I found the whole ordeal frightening and fascist.

Mar. 05 2014 08:12 AM
Alan Thomas from Missouri

All of these stories described treatment that is deplorable and hard to justify. However, I'm failing to see the media angle, despite listening to the whole thing while washing dishes and waiting for one. My podcast subscriptions include a variety of types of podcasts, but none of them are straight news (or investigative news) oriented. If I wanted such a podcast, I would subscribe to one.

Stay on topic, please!

P.S. Having read through all the comments, I see a lot of the usual complaint that American customs is bad, Canadian good (except for one Iranian commenter). I am a Caucasian looking man who has been an American citizen since birth, but have a mother and sister who are naturalized Canadian citizens. So I have been across the border countless times, and obviously an equal number of times in each direction. And while I did get hassled once by American customs, I can't count how many times the Canadian ones have searched my car and made me wait for hours. It has gotten to where I try to get my mother and sister to come and meet me on the American side of the border whenever practicable.

Mar. 04 2014 02:26 AM
Lyn from Missoula, MT

I have not read any comments. My husband are not minorities. I do want to say that we went through customs in Detroit after an afternoon drive through Canada. The fellow at the gate that had us pull over was polite, but the next guy gave us a rapid fire list of commands. We were not able to understand everyone and we all spoke standard English, no accent. When we asked him to repeat one of the commands we were told that he already told us what to do. Now we had to guess what to do without getting into trouble. As white, unaccented Americans that had clear stories of where we were and why, we made it through the routine within 2 hours.
We felt so ashamed of being Americans after that experience and wondered why anyone would come to visit our country.

Mar. 02 2014 08:32 PM

Jason; regarding whether these problems began under Bush or have continued under Obama...

The actions by government agents as described are offensive to me, no matter who the President might be. I don't think that Mr. Obama is personally responsible for any of this, of course. What I do think is that if the current president were a Republican, a lot of people in the media WOULD blame the president.

In any event, I recall the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security. There was a fight at the time over how the DHS would be staffed; would they be a para-military force, or would they be public officers allowed to unionize? I recall John McCain, eager to get the Department established, compromising with Democrats to allow the unionization.

I hate the stories as described in this episode and I hated them when I first heard them months ago. The individual officers deserve our condemnation and official punishment. This is your government at work. Or not, as the case may be.

Mar. 02 2014 07:21 PM

I live in what I can only describe as an "occupied" area in New England near the Canadian border. For decades I drove across the continent to visit relatives. Part of my trip was through Canada, both because it is the shortest route around the Great Lakes for me, and because the drive is gorgeous and convenient. Even decades ago, the crossing into Canada, I was treated with respect and consideration. Returning to the US, I almost always encountered antagonistic and often rude behavior. The last several times I took this trip, crossing into Canada was more intensive, but still respectful. Returning into the US became, at best, an intrusive experience. I am an older single lady, travel alone, and though I am of mixed heritage,I am fair and usually taken for white. The last time I crossed the country I took the train, staying within the borders of the US. I am frankly frightened to cross the border for fear of what I might experience returning to the US. I am openly a social activist and have already experienced some questionable stops just traveling near my home. I dare not travel across the border with some of my friends and relatives, including my own children and grandchildren, for fear they would be targeted on return. I know too many people who've been through the kinds of things your story described. I feel lucky that both my Senators and my Congressman are active in opposing the illegal appropriation of power by the agencies who cooperate in harassing people crossing the border, whether US citizens, or people visiting who get caught up in a bizarre distortion of power at and near our borders. I am disgusted.

Mar. 02 2014 05:49 PM
KRS-TWO from 27709

Correcting my arithmetic:
8 hr shift = (6.5 work hours + 2 fifteen minute breaks + 1 hour lunch).
My point remains.

Mar. 02 2014 05:41 PM
Heidi Bibber from Manassas, VA

Thank you so much for this enlightening program. It brought back memories of a trip I took with a German friend last summer to the Canadian side of the Niagara Falls. The Canadian border patrol officer was extremely welcoming and helpful to us two elderly women; and we had a great time in Canada. It made our return into the U.S. all the more surprising and shocking. The American border patrol officer was not merely business like but extremely curt and menacing. His questions were asked in a threatening manner; and his questions about our relationship were unnecessarily intrusive and rude. There was never a "Please" or "Thank You" and his demeanor reminded us so much of that of East German/Stasi boarder guards that it gave us chills. I remember being extremely upset and embarrassed about the manner in which we were treated. I am a U.S. citizen, my friend is German and both of us had many experiences with East German border guards. I very much wanted to write and complain to the superiors of this border guard but did not know whom to write to. Eventually my anger dissipated and I never followed up. When I heard your program and realized how much worse many other U.S. citizens are being treated, I became outraged all over again. I will follow your advice and contact my representatives in Congress. It seems that Homeland Security will have little left to protect if our democracy is being undermined bit by bit by agencies that choke it like an octopus.

Mar. 02 2014 05:21 PM
KRS-TWO from Durham North Carolina

In listening to this show I noticed that the ordeals of these people tend to last around five, six, or seven hours. Assuming the work shifts of the CBP personnel described by OTM tends to be 8 hrs (7.5 work hours + 2 fifteen minute breaks + 1 hour lunch), I hypothesize that they are authorized and trained to do the activities described by OTM and they do these things basically to fill their shift. If true, then they truly are harassing, disrespecting, and assaulting people (American or not) because otherwise their only job description is to *be vigilant* and the most vague, bureaucratic, and insidious activities which that implies.

Mar. 02 2014 05:02 PM
KRS-TWO from 27709

In listening to this show I noticed that the ordeals of these people tend to last around five, six, or seven hours. Assuming the work shifts of the CBP personnel described by OTM tends to be 8 hrs (7.5 work hours + 2 fifteen minute breaks + 1 hour lunch), I hypothesize that they are authorized and trained to do the activities described by OTM and they do these things basically to fill their shift. If true, then they truly are harassing, disrespecting, and assaulting people (American or not) because otherwise their only job description is to *be vigilant* and the most vague, bureaucratic, and insidious activities which that implies.

Mar. 02 2014 04:59 PM
Marvin Littman

I am outraged at how these people were treated. Why are the officers at the borders not accountable? I'm speechless. I happen to be an orthodox Jew, not that it matters.

Mar. 02 2014 04:30 PM

The Border Patrol seems to be completely out of control. If they want respect, there needs to be much more transparency and accountability. We don’t know who these people are. We don’t know what kind of training and screening they went through to get their jobs and we don’t know what kind of rules they operate under. Judging by the accounts of abuse in this report, many of them need to be fired and some of them need to be arrested. Also, this idea that their jurisdiction can expand and contract at will is just ridiculous.
I hope Congress and the courts works to rein in this agency ASAP!!

Mar. 02 2014 04:23 PM
iama nonymous from Atlanta

No politician other than Rand Paul seem outraged over the fact that this is no longer a free country.

I haven't set foot into one of our Stalinist airports in four years. I now drive everywhere, coast to coast. It takes much longer, but I still have my dignity and some freedom.

Mar. 02 2014 03:47 PM
Laura Klose from Park Ridge, IL

This story confirmed my worst suspicions of how Homeland Security was treating people at our borders. I am a person who strongly beleives in border control.However, this mindless bullying and terrorizing of any person should be evidence enough to prove that our Bill of Rights is being disregarded.

In our local High School Law class, we teach our students about the Bill of Rights, and provide examples like this for their evaluation . In addition, we invite speakers fro the criminal justice system, lawyers, judges etc. to speak to our students.
One of the most valuable points I remember hearing from an ACLU lawyer was the importance of contacting your congress person. He stated that these people are assigned to the specific committee, and most often are unawre of what is occuring in other areas. He stated that although the response may be less than personal, they do value hearing from their constituency very much, and will attempt to help citizens as much as possible. Thank you for thie excellent reporting.

Mar. 02 2014 03:37 PM
Benoit Balz from NY

So completely beyond outrageous, and made more excruciating to think our taxpayer money funds this blatantly abusive behavior.

The biggest joke of all is that the specter of 911 and "terrorism" looms behind all this idiocy, yet it looks like the Federal Government redacted any information regarding foreign governments' support and involvement in the attacks.

So if they knew who funded and supported the 911 attacks, why doesn't the truth come out, what were the "wars" for, why is everyone's information snooped on, and what's going on with these systematic border abuses and more?

Mar. 02 2014 02:32 PM
Neil from Austin

I'm Iranian-American and on several occasions have been interviewed by border agents. The anecdotes I hear on the program about encounters with the border agents are not news to me. But consider that after 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US, most of our law enforcements and national security organizations traveled to Israel to learn from them how to deal with terrorism, since they had been successful in dealing with Palestinian terrorism. Many of the humiliations than Americans endure at the border bear a striking resemblance to what Palestinians endure.

On The Media NEVER goes near any topic having to do with the US media coverage of Israel. Maybe if you had done your job and discussed the lack of balanced US media coverage of Israel and its cultural impact on America, you wouldn't have to be discussing border patrol agents violating our rights.

BTW, again as an Iranian-American, if I had to choose between American and Canadian border patrol agents, I would choose the Americans. They are much nicer.

Mar. 02 2014 11:58 AM
Greg from Clemson, SC

This was the most disturbing and troubling story I've heard lately. To detain a U.S. Citizen because of their religious beliefs after stopping them only because they were racially profiled is abhorrent, illegal, morally wrong, inefficient and a complete waste of taxpayer support for this agency, and will not only do nothing to stop terrorists, but actually plays into the rhetoric and recruitment of terrorists both at home and abroad.

Given the nature of this story, I feel the need to state that I am, for lack of a better term, of caucasian descent and was born a U.S. citizen. The lack of answers from DHS -- despite requests from those detained both during their detainment and after, as well as by members of Congress and the media -- only exacerbates the problem.

This is not right, it does nothing to make our nation safer, and it is inhumane and undignified. As a fellow U.S. Citizen, let me offer my sincere apologies to all those needlessly and uselessly detained in this manner. It is a shameful and embarrassing thing to know, and it deserves the collective action of all American citizens to demand better of our government.

Mar. 02 2014 11:45 AM
Anders from New Hampshire

It's about time this made news. I am a dual US-Canada citizen from a border state. I am as WASP as it gets and have still been abused by these thugs. Once when I was crossing the Mexico-US border into California in a late model Ford Escort on return from a volunteer trip with a charitable organization dedicated to the construction of affordable housing, the US border agent rudely ordered, "Open your trunk" (no please, of course). So I opened the door to walk back and open the trunk. Well, the guy absolutely flipped. He lunged in my direction and shouted at the top of his lungs, "Stay in the fucking car!" His face was red with rage. "Sir," I said politely, "I can't open the trunk if you won't allow me to get out of the car." He harshly demanded the key from me, looked in the trunk and found nothing, through the key at me, and waved me on without so much as a word.
I have spent time living in Canada and also heard many horror stories from Canadians crossing into the US. And these are supposed to be our closest friends, our northern cousins, people who until very recently did not even need ID to cross the border.
I have to say that what sometimes bothers me about the rhetoric in this debate are comments like, "I couldn't believe that I was being treated like this as an American citizen," or "I am ashamed that my fellow Americans are being treated this way." NO ONE should be treated this way. All humans, citizens of any country (or stateless people even) should be treated with equal respect and dignity by a country that purports to be a democracy. And there should be no secret police (and given their exemption from policy disclosure requirements and due process, that is what the CBP amounts to).
We need serious reform here.

Mar. 02 2014 11:38 AM
Matt Taylor from New Hampshire

Same thing happened to me flying back into the USA through Miami... all the disrespectful and unprofessional behavior described in the piece except that they did not take my cell phone. Don't think you're safe if you're non-Muslim.

I am a senior citizen, white, no criminal record with an "American sounding" name. I even had a government security clearance at the time and had worked for the federal government for 12 years.

I completely sympathize with our Muslim and Hispanic citizens and absolutely believe that they must often suffer horrible treatment at the hands of the Border Patrol. I am ashamed to say that I probably would not have believed it before my little episode with these bozos.

It's time that our government reigns in this poorly managed agency and enforces some professionalism. Inspiring "customer service" signs on the wall of the detainment facility do not qualify as "good management". Message to Congress and/or the President: "Heads need to roll. Get serious about doing your duty to the American people".

Mar. 02 2014 10:43 AM
Donald Siegel from NJ

One possible source of additional leverage is the White House's on line petition system. Create a petition demanding more transparency in the Border Protection process. If there are enough signatures, the White House has promised a response. A response does not ensure appropriate action, but it's a step. Legislation is the best answer.

Mar. 02 2014 10:26 AM
Kevin from Milwaukee

Can I just point out that for everyone who calls out CBP for its terrible or "redneck" officers, that's it's Customs and Border Protection! Not Border Patrol. If you're going to slam a person or agency, at least get their name right.

Mar. 02 2014 12:56 AM

This is about official oppression, and it is truly outrageous. Are we living in America or in the Soviet Union? It sounds to me like the CBP is totally out of control. I wish Abdurrahman's representative, Carolyn Maloney, was more aggressive about pursuing answers. It's frightening when even our elected representatives seem powerless to effect change. Abdurraham should contact her state senator to see if he/she has any more influence than does Maloney. Abdurraham should even write to the president.

Mar. 01 2014 11:46 PM

This is truly outrageous. Are we living in America or in the Soviet Union? It sounds to me like the CBP is totally out of control. I wish Abdurrahman's representative, Carolyn Maloney, was more aggressive about pursuing answers. It's frightening when even our elected representatives seem powerless to effect change. Abdurraham should contact her state senator to see if he/she has any more influence than does Maloney. Abdurraham should even write to the president.

Mar. 01 2014 11:44 PM

I live within 100 miles of Canadian border. I used to go into Canada quite a bit, but have stopped my trips. The US Border Patrol is unprofessional at most crossings in upstate New York. They are rude, surly, and to top it off most of them make about 100K (counting Federal benefits). I drive a pretty nice car, I have no criminal history, work, pay a lot of taxes, and I am treated better at a bad food restaurant than I am at my own border.

The last trip up to Ottawa was ok going into Canada. However, on the way back into the States I got this young, dull witted redneck BP (probably a local) guy who gave me some lip. I am 50 years old, I didn't respond to a snide comment he made, I just wanted to come home. This is a serious issue, and this young ladies denial of her due process is criminal.

Canada BP is still professional as ever. I'm embarrassed by the behavior of OUR Federal agencies, and the lack of any leadership from the current president. I voted for Obama, after the first four years I saw that he was the status quo.

The Patriot Act is a joke, the terrorists indeed have won and accomplished what they set out to do. And this is coming from a guy who lost a friend in Tower 1 on 9/11.

Mar. 01 2014 10:51 PM
Rob from Vancouver, WA

This activity, I'm afraid, far precedes the DHS. In the 1980s, an attorney friend of mine and I returned to Portland, OR from the coast of B.C., Canada, where we had been sailing with a friend living there. Our experience crossing at Blaine, WA was like something out of a movie: A large "gunbull", ranger hat, southern drawl and all, made us park our car, leaving everything in it. Once inside, three reinforcements showed up. They cornered us, took the car keys by force, searched the car, returned to the office with "contraband" (a single rolled cigarette, of unknown content or origin), forced us to walk into town and find $200 US cash, return and pay it to them. No paperwork of any kind. They then released us, and we quickly left as they were literally dragging another hapless citizen into the building.

I urged my friend, as an attorney, to take action. He refused, his opinion being we would be either ignored entirely, or persecuted in as yet unforseen ways.

Welcome to the USA...

Mar. 01 2014 09:34 PM

This story needs a different headline. It's a toss up:
1. "WNYC producer supposedly earns enough to take long trip."
2. "Something happens to reporter."
3. "The world is hard and confusing -- even for the beautiful, smart and fully empowered.

Mar. 01 2014 04:17 PM
Kerry Doyle from Boston

Thank you, thank you, thank you for shedding a light at least a little bit on CBP! I am in immigration lawyer and I see stories like your EVERY day. This has been going on for years and years. I'm still listening to your story so i don't know if you will mention it but for non-citizens, thes CBP officers have authority to deport people WITHOUT any review by any agency. I hope everyone hears this maybe this story will help make some changes? I doubt it, but thanks for trying.

Very truly yours,
Kerry Doyle

Mar. 01 2014 01:21 PM
Charles from Manhattan

Are any of the CBP agents employed as private contractors? Federal buildings in Manhattan are guarded by an enormous private security company.

Mar. 01 2014 09:10 AM
Avid OTM NC Listener

In response to Jason's posting ... I am an Obama supporter, but the one area in which I strongly disagree with his policies, is regarding the curbing of our civil and individual rights. President Bush could not have imagined the lengths the current administration, and the agencies under the Executive Branch, have taken to expand the Patriot Act, spy on American citizens, and generally curb our rights under the Constitution. What President Bush did is small potatoes compared to President Obama. What OTM is spearheading, and with the documents released by Edward Snowden, I see some glimmer of hope, that some of our individual rights may be retained or returned to us. Congress is partially responsible for these problems by enacting legislation to allow the Executive Branch agencies to curb our rights. At least in the case of Homeland Security, some Congress members, as we heard on this week's program, are willing to take steps, to pull back this veil of secrecy. And as Brooke stated in the report, this is a long road, and thank you OTM, for taking a lead role, in this process!

Mar. 01 2014 08:35 AM
Jason from less than 100 miles from US/Can border

Charles, incidents such as these began at the initiative of Mr. Bush. Did *you* object to them at that time?

Mar. 01 2014 07:53 AM

DHS; Customs; Border Patrol; they all work for Mr. Obama. In the months since last September has anyone in public radio demanded answers as to why the the president hasn't picked up a phone or a pen to straighten this out? Or does it only get personal when a Republican is in the White House?

Mar. 01 2014 06:58 AM
reporter from London, UK

This is exactly the same point I originally made in regards of Ms Abdurrahman's treatment at the US border when the story came out last year. Her contention loses all credibility by claiming that she was mistreated as US citizen while giving out an impression that foreigners are fair game. As US citizen myself I state that is not ok and the disgrace is on both US DHS and Ms Abdurrahman's side.

Mar. 01 2014 01:53 AM

from the piece, the quote is " I feel like a second class citizen, I get de-humanized and treated like an animal". This (understandably) must be appalling for U.S. citizens.
Just take a second to think that if this is how US citizens are treated, how does DHS treat foreigners trying to enter the U.S.? Foreigners with infinitely less redress than even U.S. citizens in these incidents...

Feb. 28 2014 09:35 PM

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