Retired North Carolina police chief Hassan Aden detained at JFK airport.

Retired North Carolina Police Chief Detained at JFK Airport

Retired North Carolina Police Chief Detained at JFK Airport

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March 19 2017 10:41 AM

Retired North Carolina Police Chief Detained at JFK Airport

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Travelers arrive at the international terminal at John F. Kennedy International Airport on March 6 in New York City.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

The stories of travelers being held up by customs officers when arriving in the United States keep coming, and now include someone with decades of experience as a law enforcement officer. Hassan Aden, who was the police chief in Greenville, North Carolina, for two years, says he was held at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for an hour and a half earlier this week.

Aden wrote about his detention on Facebook, noting that in his 42 years as a U.S. citizen he had grown used to being greeted with a “warm smile and the usual, ‘Welcome home sir’ ” when he returned to the country. On March 13, though, things were markedly different, and he was greeted “with a gruff expression” as the officer told him, “Let’s take a walk.” What happened? “My name was used as an alias by someone on some watch list.” In addition to his two years as the top cop in Greenville, Aden had also worked as a police officer in Virginia for 25 years. But none of that mattered to the officials in charge.

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"I asked several times, 'how long of a detention do you consider to be reasonable?', the answer I was given by CBP Officer Chow was that I was not being detained-he said that with a straight face. I then replied, 'But I’m not free to leave-how is that not a detention?' ” All the while he was not given access to a phone or the ability to tell anyone that he was not allowed to leave the airport. “He had the audacity to tell me I was not being detained,” Aden wrote. “His ignorance of the law and the Fourth Amendment should disqualify him from being able to wear a CBP badge—but maybe fear and detention is the new mission of the CBP and the Constitution is a mere suggestion.”

He was only released once a second officer who started her shift moved things along more quickly. “All that to say that If this can happen to me, it can happen to anyone with attributes that can be ‘profiled,’ ” Aden wrote. “No one is safe from this type of unlawful government intrusion.”

Some might be quick to say that the detention was nothing more than a minor inconvenience. But Aden notes that now he’s always going to be fearful it could happen again, and he sees this as a sign of a broader shift in the country:

My freedoms were restricted, and I cannot be sure it won’t happen again, and that it won’t happen to my family, my children, the next time we travel abroad. This country now feels cold, unwelcoming, and in the beginning stages of a country that is isolating itself from the rest of the world—and its own people—in an unprecedented fashion.

Daniel Politi has been contributing to Slate since 2004 and wrote the Today’s Papers column from 2006 to 2009. Follow him on Twitter.