Excerpt from “Returning Home: How U.S. Government Practices Undermine Civil Rights At Our Nation’s Doorstep, an Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Asian Law Caucus Report” April 2009.
Nabila Mango, a 65-year-old Palestinian American who came to the United States more than forty years ago, has dedicated her life to serving her community and building bridges between the United States and the Arab world. She serves as a mental health therapist in the low- income Tenderloin neighborhood of San Francisco, counseling immigrants, domestic violence survivors, and others who are coping with mental illness. Mango teaches Arabic at local community colleges, brings Arab poets, artists, and musicians to the United States to share their culture with Americans, and helps direct an Arabic choir that per forms in the San Francisco Bay Area. Now, however, for the first time in her 40 years in the United States, Mango feels that her Arab origin has earned her a second-place status, despite her U.S. citizenship.
It began when she was returning from a trip to the Middle East in 2007, and CBP agents questioned her about where she had traveled, where she had slept each night, what degrees she had, and the name and occupation of her adult daughter. CBP agents rifled through Mango’s Arabic music books, took away personal documents and business cards she had collected from acquaintances, and removed her cell phone from her presence. Mango noticed that although she had flown from Germany, on a flight with passengers who appeared to be largely European, no else had been stopped and taken aside for questioning as she was. For days, Nabila remained shaken by her experience and even afraid for the safety of individuals whose numbers were programmed on her cell phone.
Since that experience, CBP has stopped Mango twice more after she returned to the United States from trips to Latin America. After her last trip to the Galapagos Islands, border officers held her more than two hours, causing her to miss her connection to California and forcing her to scramble to find a hotel for the night. No one else from her party was detained. Each of these experiences has been not just an inconvenience, but a source of anxiety, fear, and insecurity, causing Mango to question her place in the United States as an Arab and a Muslim.