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U.S. Border Officials Often Profile Us When Traveling — And It's Not Making Anyone Safer

Officials are wasting time repeatedly stopping innocent people. A thorough review of clearly ineffective U.S. counter-terrorism and immigration policies seems long overdue.

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In the early years post 9/11, immigration officials used to pretend these anti-terrorism checks were random and not a result of what is now widely accepted to be racial profiling. When we arrived at New York's Le Guardia airport from a London flight last year however, an embarrassed official said:

Look you know how the shit works, sorry I wish I could do something but…

On this trip to Chicago's airport, I watched as the Caucasian man who had caused so much fuss was quietly allowed to leave – ahead of us and many others. My husband grew irate and vocal about the unfairness of what was happening. The same duty supervisor bellowed at my husband to follow him immediately.

At this point, I was alarmed. You hear stories, and I immediately grew fearful. We had young children and what if things got out of hand? I mean where would it end, Gitmo? My fears inflamed when my eldest son tried to follow his father and was shouted at by a female immigration officer, who screamed in his face: "I have a gun." I questioned her aggressive tone and fortunately she backed down, claiming she only meant it was dangerous for him to be near the weapon. My son asked: "Mum, would she really shoot an innocent 10-year-old boy?

After a few minutes, my husband returned relatively unscathed. The supervisor had not been overly hostile but was clearly not telling the truth when he claimed the Caucasian man had been taken to have his luggage inspected. I had seen him walk off unaccompanied and as free as a bird – in stark contrast to the rest of us.

Another hour and a half and our turn came. A brief call to the state department in Washington followed, which is the usual form our checks take, and we were free to go. I was left feeling drained and traumatized by the ordeal, my husband equally weary but also angry he had missed a work appointment with a colleague. My poor children were simply exhausted and confused.

Of course I understand the need for security checks, the threat of terrorism is very real and as a frequent traveler, I want my family to benefit from these measures like any sensible person. However, the system cannot be working when immigration officials are wasting time on repeatedly stopping innocent people. Indeed half our male Muslim friends face similar checks. Surely it is critical that measures are properly intelligence-led and a thorough review of current clearly ineffective US counter-terrorism and immigration policies seems long overdue.

As we left the airport, my sons asked me whether this would happen to them "when they grow up". – I tried to be re-assuring, but in reality, I am far from optimistic. For them, this episode is part of what will undoubtedly be a painful rite of passage as they deal with prejudices growing up as young Muslim men in the west.

Rifat Malik is a former journalist for ITN news. She is British, but has lived in the US for over a decade.

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