Iím a Journalist but I Didnít Fully Realize the Terrible Power of U.S. Border Officials Until They Violated My Rights and Privacy

By Seth Harp

June 23/24, 2019 "Information Clearing House" -  I should have kept my mouth shut about the guacamole; that made things worse for me. Otherwise, what Iím about to describe could happen to any American who travels internationally. It happened 33,295 times last year.

My work as a journalist has taken me to many foreign countries, including frequent trips to Mexico. On May 13, I was returning to the U.S. from Mexico City when, passing through immigration at the Austin airport, I was pulled out of line for ďsecondary screening,Ē a quasi-custodial law enforcement process that takes place in the Homeland Security zone of the airport.

Austin is where I was born and raised, and I usually get waved through immigration after one or two questions. Iím also a white man; more on that later. This time, when my turn came to show my passport, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer was more aggressive than usual in his questioning. I told him Iíd been in Mexico for seven days for work, that I was a journalist, and that I travel to Mexico often, as he could see from my passport. That wasnít enough for him, though. He wanted to know the substance of the story I was currently working on, which didnít sit right with me. I tried to skirt the question, but he came back to it, pointedly.

I was going on three hours of sleep, and I hadnít had anything to eat in the last 12 hours besides some popcorn and peanuts and a Monster energy drink. Had my blood sugar been higher, I might have cheerfully told him. Instead, I muttered something about not having a legal obligation, under the circumstances, to disclose the contents of my reporting.

The agent, whose name was Moncivias, said we would see about that. He asked me to follow him into the secondary screening area.

ďOh, come on, man,Ē I said, checking the time on my phone. It was just after noon. ďThis is going to be a huge waste of time.Ē

ďIím here all day,Ē Moncivias said. He might have been 30 years old, clean cut, with dark hair and light skin. He and I were close enough in age that there was definitely some male primate posturing going on between us. At one point, I told him that I had been in the Army. ďThank you for your service,Ē he retorted.


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