By Ruth Conniff
Zakariya Muhammad Reed was coming back from Canada on June 17 when he was detained again for a couple of hours. This marks the fifth time in the last seven months that he has encountered difficulty.
On May 9, I reported on his troubles at www.progressive.org, “Muslim American Grilled at Border over Religion, Letter to the Editor”.
This time, Reed was asked about that article. On a previous occasion, he was grilled about a letter to the editor he'd written to the Toledo Blade. In that letter, he criticized U.S. support for Israeli policies, as well as Bush's Iraq War.
Expecting to be hassled by now, Reed decided to cross over from Windsor, Ontario, by way of the Detroit-Windsor tunnel. “The detention area is bigger,” he tells me, “so if I’m going to be there for several hours, I’d rather be in the bigger place.”
Sure enough, when he got to the booth, he was not allowed to go through.
“There’s something coming up on your license plate,” the guard said, according to Reed. “It’s a no read.”
The guard took his ID and scanned it.
“Three other guys come out and surround the car and escort me to the detention center,” Reed says. “After I got into main reception area, I talked to an immigration officer. And a guy comes around and says, ‘You’re the firefighter? From Ohio?’ ”
Still, they took him back into a detention area.
“I was put up against the wall and thoroughly frisked, any more thoroughly and I would have asked for flowers,” Reed says.
They asked him some of the usual questions, like where was he in Canada and how long had he been there, he says.
“Then an agent came in asked me about the article on progressive.org,” Reed says. “He was shaking his head like it was ridiculous to speak with progressive.org.”
Reed says only one aspect seemed to interest him: the anecdote about the agent who took out his ammo clip in front of him.
“Where exactly was it that the officer took his ammo out?”
“This happened right here,” Reed responded.
“Well, you know we have everything here on videotape.”
“So go look at the videotape,” Reed says he answered.
“Well, this is very serious,” the agent said, according to Reed. “You need to file a complaint when stuff like this happens.”
“I have a complaint over this entire process. The problem is we’re being stopped all the time.”
“Mr. Reid, I understand how mad you are.”
“No, you cannot fathom how angry I am. You are doing wrong. The system is wrong.”
After a while, they fingerprinted Reed, tossed him back his passport and told him he could go, Reed recalls.
Reed says he was struck by the fact that the agent was not interested in other aspects of his many ordeals as described in the original progressive.org story, only the bit about the ammo clip.
“This is all they’re worried about? What about everything else?”
Reed added, “They had no problem with the ‘zip-tie’ comment.”
He was referring to a remark he said he heard from one of the agents at a previous detention: “We should treat them like we do in the desert. We should put a bag over their heads and zip tie their hands together.”
Ron Smith, spokesperson for Customs and Border Protection in Detroit, says he does not have information on why Reed was stopped the fifth time.
Reed says his overwhelming feeling right now is not surprise or even anger—“just disgust. I’m so ashamed that this is happening in this country.”