Mohamed Khairullah, who has been the mayor of Prospect Park of New Jersey since 2005, has revealed in a news conference on Friday that his trip to Turkey over the summer turned disastrous when he was detained for three hours with his phone confiscated for 12 days.
Mayor Khairullah, who is Muslim, said that him and his family were detained at John F. Kennedy International Airport after returning from Turkey, with even his 14 month-old baby’s boarding pass stamped with “SSSS”, which means secondary security screening selection.
Arab and Muslim Americans know [this] story very well…They started asking me ‘do you know about any terrorist groups forming over there, or did you meet any terrorists’? And that’s when I felt insulted after serving my community for over 18 years as an elected official. I felt that I was selected basically because of my name and identity.”
After Khairullah reportedly stated he would not answer the questions posed by the Customs agents, they seized his phone and kept it for almost two weeks. Khairullah was reportedly only allowed his phone back after involving a lawyer from CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Mayor Khairullah fled Syria in 1980, and became a US citizen in 2001. A year after that he became a councilman in Prospect Park, while also serving as a volunteer fireman for five years in his community. He also is greatly involved in charity and humanitarian work, having made seven separate trips back to his native country of Syria to help the refugee crisis.
It is profiling. It happens every day to American citizens who happen to be Muslim. And the only reason they’re taken back to secondary inspection and questioned that way is because of their faith, what they happen to be wearing, and what direction they pray. This is not about me only. This is about our civil rights. This is about ending profiling and Islamophobia.”
A Customs and Border Protections spokesperson stated in regards to Khairullah’s ordeal that CBP remains “committed to preserving the rights and privacy of all people while conducting necessary and lawful actions to secure our borders”, however have not commented on his individual case as of yet.
Mayor Khairullah’s case serves as a timely reminder of both the rampant Islamophobia in the United States as well as the growing abuses being committed by CBP officers at the borders of the US, especially in regards to the migrant crisis seen at the border between the US and Mexico. While Khairullah was able to garner media attention around this case with the help of CAIR, it remains worrying that many Muslim Americans continue to be profiled and targeted based on their ethnic or religious identity without the proper justification or repercussions for the perpetrators.