US Border Patrol Questioning People Waiting for Arriving Passengers

Civil rights lawyer and Georgetown University School of Law adjunct professor Arjun Sethi tweets that Customs and Border Protection officers are reportedly questioning people waiting for arriving passengers.

The most obvious explanation for this is that the stories of those picking up passengers can be compared to people going through immigration. In other words, what you say can be used to incriminate the friends or family you’re picking up at the airport.

Sethi advises not to speak to officers if approached. I would modify that advice somewhat. If you identify yourself and refuse to speak, your identification could be used to infer whom you’re meeting. And knowing that a passenger being met by someone unwilling to speak to government officers could be itself cast suspicion and be used as the pretext for additional questioning and detention.

My advice is if you appear to a government officer ‘to be Muslim,’ or are meeting someone that is either coming from a majority Muslim country or with a Muslim-sounding name, you are best off not waiting for them at airport arrivals. Have them contact you once they’re through US customs and meet at that point.

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. Terrible advice from a terrible blogger.

    ‘Appear to be muslim’ ?
    You mean a brown person? Newsflash! Not all brown people are Muslim. It’s a religion, not a race.

  2. @Linda There are many things besides skin color that could make you appear to be a Muslim such as your attire or the way your acting. Just cuz you appear to be Muslim doesn’t mean you are Muslim but that’s not the point of the article.

  3. Another sweet and generous comment from “Linda Olsen”

    The point is that CBP officers may not make the distinctions you are making, the relevant issue is what those officers perceive and what actions follow from that.

  4. WTF don’t go to airport if you appear Muslim. Honestly this gives me the motivation just to go to the airport and if approached by a CPB officer tell them to go to hell

  5. Why does Linda Olsen read this blog if Gary is such a terrible blogger? Did she misspell terrific?

    I am not sure I agree with the advice but it really is a shame that you had to give it.

  6. This is horrible advice. Telling people they shouldn’t go to the arrivals area if they appear to be muslim or if the person they are meeting is muslim or has a muslim sounding name? That is your answer? Leave the advice to real lawyers please. Simple answer is what the lawyer said. Don’t answer the questions of customs officials. They have no obligation to talk to them. If this is indeed happening then it is clear customs is full of bigots which is not surprising given our president being among the biggest bigots on the planet. People have constitutional rights here and the answer is certainly not giving up rights to avoid being approached. It seems like the terrorists have already won when stuff like this happens.

  7. Sure, really bad advice, after all trump said yesterday that illegals have nothing to be worried about, and we all know we can trust what trump says…

  8. @Bill “Don’t answer the questions of customs officials. They have no obligation to talk to them. ”

    1. As I mentioned, even if you just provide your name that could create problems for the person you’re meeting.

    2. If you refuse to provide your name — police have been known to be or act ignorant of or act in spite of rights — and it’s easy to imagine a border officer crafting a ‘reasonable belief’ that a crime is ongoing based on their ‘behavioral observations’ of someone waiting for a passenger to arrive off an international flights. If you ‘listen to the lawyers’ you may get advice about what they ultimately believe would happen in court. My advice is not to let it get that far.

    You protect yourself and the person you’re meeting better by not putting yourself in a position to be questioned about whom you’re meeting than by refusing to answer those questions.

  9. I think it is crappy advice.

    Considering all the ramifications it is the best advice offered here by anyone to cause the least issues for arriving passengers.. Yeah it sucks to be in this position but since we are here what better advice is offered with the intent to cause the least issues for your arriving friends / relatives?

  10. My wife and I are white atheists, but I’m inclined to suggest we head down to airport arrivals wearing a taqiyah and hijab, respectively, just to fuck with DHS idiots.

    In case you haven’t been paying attention…

    This. Is. Not. Normal.

  11. The Lawyer’s advise is based on the assumption that you don’t want to expose yourself in case you get into a courtroom later. He does not consider that you may actually never get that far…. I would rather stick with my grandfather’s advise of constantly watching who is around you and ducking away timely, quietly and smoothly before someone is getting uncomfortably close. This is how he survived almost 5 years of Nazi occupation.

  12. @ Gary — Your advice re: “if you appear Muslim” is disturbing (and surprising) to me. Why should people hide from discrimination, rather than stand up to it? Should transgendered people avoid using the restroom in public? Just food for thought…

  13. I don’t think “appear to be Muslim,” even if put in quotes or qualified with the idea you meant only to refer to what CBP might think is the appropriate way to express this idea. Linda is a pain in the ass, but she’s at least correct about one part. Muslim is not a race. It would be absurd to say “appear to be Jewish.” Or Christian. I think you’re on the right side of this issue, Gary. I hope so, at least.

    “If you dress in a way or have an appearance that would make a profiling CBP agent think you are Muslim” might be a better way to express the idea without putting the CBP’s words in your mouth.

    Part of the problem that leads to a world where CBP does this crap is that there are many who simply don’t appreciate or have never really thought about the fact that being “Muslim” is not the same as being white, or black or Asian. Why not take an opportunity to choose words that make it clear you understand the difference?

  14. @Gene I’m not saying that this is a desirable state of affairs, I think it’s deplorable, but facing law enforcement at the border when you have someone you care about enroute to the United States and where those officers have tremendous power? Look, I’m just not going to recommend someone take a stand in that situation, though I certainly respect if they do.

  15. Am I the only one who upon reading the phrase ‘appear to be Muslim’ thought it to be a pretty poignant and sharp snipe at the CBP, which sadly is full of racist power-hungry mediocrities who use exactly these types of bigoted criteria in their overzealous pursuit of imagined enemies? I agree with Gary’s advice; most people don’t have the stomach to stand up to abusive authoritarian morons, nor should they have to. Thus the best thing to do is to avoid trouble for themselves and their loved ones on the other side. But at the same time I also fully agree with Mallthus in the comments above. This is not normal, and anyone capable of doing so should go to the nearest airport in a hijab to mess with those despicable CBP tactics.

  16. This has been going on for YEARS upon YEARS. It doesn’t happen every time to everybody. And, it isn’t random. They don’t just troll the crowd, asking “Who are you? Who are you meeting?”

    It starts on the other side of the waiting area. An arriving passenger answers standard questions in such a way where verification is needed, often about destination, plans for staying, plans for returning home when the visa expires. The obvious question becomes “Is somebody picking you up?” and it goes from there. “Are you here to pick up XYZ? Is he staying with you?” etc. to confirm the story.

    For crying out loud, this is done in every country in the world. Don’t let an ACLU lawyer paint a picture of evil out of simple standard immigration processing.

  17. No, people should not act differently because CBP is racist. That’s called Separate But Equal, and that doesn’t make things better. Also, you shouldn’t be advising people to act differently, you should be calling out CBP for being racist.

  18. @Boffo I have travelled all over the world including into countries with restrictive governments. I have never once been asked at the airport is anyone meeting me.

  19. I would just tell the CBP that it’s none of his business why I’m in the arrival area and to kiss my ass.

  20. @Bill it doesn’t matter that YOU haven’t been asked if anyone was meeting you. Obviously your answers were adequate.

    The problems arise when someone arrives in a country with a passport that is expiring within a short time of the visa expiring. Or using a passport with an unusual collection of entry and exit stamps. Or having no funds and no visible means of support or no return ticket. In short, leaving themselves wide open to questioning if their arrival is part of a visit or an unofficial immigration. As I said at the beginning of my list – it doesn’t happen to everybody. If it didn’t happen to you, then you’ve proven my point!

    Also – thus isn’t limited to people who “look like they are Muslim” or who have “brown skin.” I’ve known it to happen to Northern Europeans as well.

  21. @gary PLEASE stop calling CBP officers “US Border Patrol”. The US Border Patrol, of which I was a part of for many years is SEPARATE PART OF THE DHS MESS. They do NOT work at airports or ports of entry, but ALONG the actual border.

    WAY too many people make this mistake and having someone that gets read by many just perpetuates the problem.

  22. Gary offers excellent advice to those who are most at risk. Not that us “white folk” are safe either – but the eyes of those with power in this country focus more on people of other races and religions (and, yes, traditionalist Muslims often do “look different”).

    Excellent advice, that is, if what you are concerned about is protecting yourself and your family.

    If, on the other hand, you want to fight the state of things, consider this from two people who invested a lot into trying to prevent this much power from the hands of government:

    “Where Liberty dwells, there is my country.” – Benjamin Franklin

    “Where Liberty is not, there is mine.” – Thomas Paine

    Paine lived his words too. After the War for Independence he headed to France to influence the French Revolution toward liberty.

    But there is no shame in taking the safe route and following Gary’s advice. I think I would.

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