A Muslim New Jersey mayor is speaking out about a case of alleged profiling at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport ― saying he was held for three hours last month while Customs and Border Protection officers asked him whether he knew any terrorists.
On Friday, the North Jersey Record reported that Prospect Park Mayor Mohamed Khairullah says he was detained at Kennedy for three hours in August and questioned by CBP officials. He was returning from Turkey, where he’d visited relatives with his wife and four children and met with the mayors of various towns.
“It was definitely a hurtful moment where I’m thinking in my mind that this is not the America that I know,” Khairullah, who has served as Prospect Park’s mayor since 2006, told the paper. “I am very familiar with our laws and Constitution, and everything that was going on there was a violation.”
Ahmed Mohamed, litigation director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ New York chapter, told HuffPost the CPB agents asked Khairullah about a variety of matters, including his occupation, his mother’s name, his time in Turkey, and whether he met with any terrorist organizations there.
“There is absolutely no evidence how this type of questioning, how religious profiling in this manner, protects our country a single bit,” Mohamed said, calling it a “very classic case of profiling that Muslim travelers have been going through” for years.
According to CBP’s website, “agents must develop particularly probable cause to conduct a lawful search.” However, there is room for subjectivity, as the site says “probable cause can be developed from agent observations,” among other things.
In Khairullah’s case, his cellphone was seized for 12 days, presenting a potential constitutional violation.
CAIR is now looking into the matter, and deciding whether to follow up with CBP. A major issue, Mohamed said, is whether agents downloaded the contents of the phone.
“Not only is it a constitutional violation of the mayor’s rights, but that’s going to turn into a continuing violation,” Mohamed said, noting that if information was copied from the device, Khairullah could be questioned in subsequent instances.
“The next time you travel after they’ve downloaded your cellphone is they’re going to ask you about contents they’ve found in your emails,” Mohamed said, as an example.
In a statement to the Record, a CBP spokesman defended the agency, saying it “treats all international travelers with integrity, respect and professionalism while keeping the highest standards of security.” The spokesman said he could not comment on individual cases.
Khairullah did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment. Mohamed said the mayor is “going to fight for this to make sure that other Americans don’t have their rights violated.”