Why People Are Still Being Detained at U.S. Airports

March 4th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

Despite the temporary suspension of President Donald Trump's executive order on immigration, a number of people — mostly Muslims — are still being detained at U.S. airports.


Muhammad Ali Jr. and his mother, Khalilah Camacho-Ali, were detained and questioned for two hours at a Florida airport. Both are U.S. citizens.

Federal immigration agents also recently detained French historian and Holocaust scholar Henry Rousso for 10 hours at a Houston airport. Celestine Omin, a 28-year-old software engineer from Nigeria, was detained and given a test to prove he was an engineer after landing at a New York airport.

These are just a few high-profile examples. It's unclear how many people, in total, have been detained at airports in the weeks after a federal appeals court upheld a temporary restraining order against Trump's travel ban on February 9.

Why is anyone still being detained at U.S. airports?


The important thing to understand is that the temporary restraining order against Trump's executive order on immigration only applies to four of 11 sections contained in the order, Justin Cox, a staff attorney at the National Immigration Law Center, told ATTN:.

"It's very possible that border patrol officers are relying on some of those other sections in order to scrutinize Muslim travelers in particular," Cox said. He pointed to the first two sections of the order in particular, which broadly describe the purpose and overall immigration policy position of the administration.

"They're very high-level in generality and don't have any particular directives in them," he said, "but they nonetheless can be — if I was a border patrol officer who was already suspicious of Muslims, I would certainly read those and say, 'Oh, that means I can subject them to additional scrutiny than I was able to before."


The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has offered a wide range of explanations for the various detentions. The agency told CNN Ali was detained "so they could identify him and verify his passport" — a claim he and his lawyer deny, as the focus of the questioning allegedly centered on his religious identity. There was confusion over Rousso's tourist visa, another ICE official told The New York Times.

ATTN: sought clarification on from DHS, but a representative did not respond by the time of publication.

Cox argued that the administration's rhetoric and policies on immigration have encouraged border patrol officers to be more aggressive, including more extreme screening at airports.

Trump's policies "have made it clear that they want law enforcement officials — in particular those at the DHS — to be really aggressive," he said. "And the administration has showed in a variety of ways that they're willing to tolerate behavior from DHS officials in particular that the prior administration — and in fact, perhaps all prior administrations — would not have tolerated. They clearly feel empowered and emboldened to harass the hell out of anyone they want."