Prospect Park, New Jersey Mayor Mohamed Khairullah was traveling through JFK International Airport last month with his family after a vacation in Turkey. Khairullah, who is Muslim American, told CNN he was detained for three hours and questioned about his travels.
He was traveling with his wife, 10-year-old son, 9-year-old and 2-year-old daughters and 14-month-old son.
A border patrol agent told him that he was picked at random for questioning and then later outright asked him: “Did you meet with any terrorists?”
“In the office, the agent did say that he was directed by DHS to interview me but he couldn’t tell me why,” Khairullah told CNN. “I’d love to know what the reason was.”
Mayor Khairullah said he gave a polite, “No,” before asking to speak with a lawyer, believing the line of questioning was “harassment.” When he tried to end the interview, the agent searched his phone and then confiscated it when Khairullah asked for it back.
Border patrol kept the American’s phone for 12 days.
The mayor’s lawyer is calling the incident “a clear case of profiling” and that Khairullah was “treated as if he was a terrorist in this situation.” Khairullah might pursue legal action against boder patrol, and he’s not the only one.
In 2017, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a federal lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security, the CBP, and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, arguing that searching and confiscating electronic devices like cell phones at the border without reasonable suspicion or a warrant is unconstitutional.
Hugh Handeyside, an ACLU staff attorney for the plaintiffs in that particular lawsuit, told CNN that some of his clients had their phones confiscated by CBP for “six to eight months.” Border patrol has confiscated 172 electronic devices in 2018 and searched 33,295.