How Badly Does the US Treat Some Citizens Coming Back into the Country?

A US citizen is suing Customs and Border Protection because when he returned to the U.S. from his native Nigeria, where he traveled for his late father’s memorial service, he was put through extreme measures.

Here’s why the federal government says they suspected him of smuggling drugs (which has since been proven false):

  • He wasn’t traveling with enough clothing

  • He was honest and declared he was bringing fruit into the country, the government says this is a clever tactic “to refocus inspectional efforts” to fruit and away from drugs.

  • He was observed “rubbing his hands together”

  • He was carrying malaria medication (as one might do when traveling to Nigeria)

Copyright: andreyuu / 123RF Stock Photo

Not included in their statement, of course, is that the man is black.

He was detained for 12 hours and “bound and driven to Reston Hospital Center in Virginia, where he says he was examined against his will.” They watched him “urinate multiple times.” He was forced to consent to the treatment, he says, after being told it was the only way he would ever be released. Adding to the indignity he was even sent a $2127 bill by the hospital for this which his attorney has since gotten the federal government to pay. Customs and Border Protection officers claim immunity from suit.

The federal government has paid out settlements in similar cases. For instance, in 2015 a woman confused with someone else with a similar name had CBP probe her “vagina twice, once with the same gloved hand used to probe the genitals of three other women” (emphasis mine) even though it is illegal for a CBP officer to “touch detainees’ private parts or force them to submit to X-rays or medical exams unless officers obtain consent, a warrant or a physician’s declaration.”

Of course new recruits to the agency are reportedly treated even worse.

(HT: Reid F.)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I flew back into JFK from Madrid via Terminal 7 a few weeks ago, I joined the long line to use the Global Entry kiosks that were moving painfully slow. Once we got to the front, we could see that only 2 of the 7 Global Entry kiosks were working. One would not read anybody’s passports and 4 were OUT OF PAPER. I saw at least a dozen people ask various CBP agent to fix this and the response varied from a shrug of the shoulder to “its not my job.” What an embarrassment for the CBP. Their attitude was atrocious. Reminded me of the last United flight I took….

  2. American citizens need to learn to tell CBP officers to f- off. When they say “You have to answer our questions,” laugh in their face. When they say “You have to consent to a medical exam or we won’t let you go,” laugh harder.

    It’s all bluffing. They don’t have a fraction of the (lawful) power that they claim to have. If you just keep your mouth shut and refuse to consent to anything or answer their questions, they will most likely let you go. When you start answering questions and agreeing to medical exams, it takes 12 hours. They can’t lawfully do a medical or rectal exam without consent or a court order. Never consent.

  3. The CPB has been out of control for years. I hope one day someone brings them back but until then, good luck to all of us. Especially nonwhites.

  4. @Len, what do you gain from denying the obvious? Are you trying to suggest that race had legitimately no role?

  5. Some of the CBP officers are wonderful and others are diabolical.

    For instance, I flew to Newark Liberty this year (Citizen of India, Resident of a Caribbean island) and they put me through hell – in fact one tried to teach me that my home is the Caribbean and not India when I replied to the query why I was in United States – I was in transit and heading home. I corrected him in return and told him I have 2 homes.

    And I also passed through JFK where this middle aged CBP officer could not have been friendlier! Such a genuinely nice officer who it seemed enjoyed his work and take it serious.

  6. Some does not even understand what process food is. When you tell them you have “canned food”, they will ask “what kind”? Does it make any difference? It is canned so no further questions asked. But that is not the case, they will ask you what kind and if you tell them it is meat, they will ask you to go to another agent and then to a room for further questioning. Once in the room, they will just ask the samr questions 2-3 times and nothing else. Then they will eventually let you go. Unbelievably waste of time!

  7. @Jason – Based on what we are reading, there is no reason to indicate that the man’s color had anything to do with him being stopped. It MAY have, and by no means am I saying that racism doesnt exist, but no, simply because the man was black does not mean that the CBP officer does not like black people and unfairly stops them.

    I am going to assume that on any flight from Nigeria a good portion of people will be African or black. Do we just ignore standard security process on the entire flight so as not to be racist? Obviously that is silly, but then what is the answer here?

    Does the same apply for flights from Israel? Because I am in my Jewish dress, does that indicate that anytime I am stopped, it is because the official (CBP, police, whatever) is against Jews?

    Or a flight from China? There is a lot of tension there as well.

    It is important as a culture that we address racism and not deny it, but at the same time it can be too easy to call almost any interaction racist. It is this balance of reality that is important. If not, true racism loses its (very negative) meaning.

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