No way to welcome anyone home

Published 6:05 pm Monday, March 20, 2017

It’s made national news, the fact that retired Greenville Police Chief Hassan Aden was detained by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol on his way back from an overseas trip last week.

A little about Aden’s background: his mother is Italian; his father, Somalian. He became a naturalized U.S. citizen at the age of 10. For 25 years, he was a police officer in Alexandria, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C. He was hired as police chief in Greenville and served there for two years, before moving back to northern Virginia and starting a consulting firm with clients that include the U.S. Department of Justice.

One would think with that resume, Aden’s qualifications for entering the country would be irreproachable.

Not so.

On arrival at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City, Aden was asked to accompany a CBP officer to a back room. He was told it didn’t matter who he was, his name had been used as an alias by another person. That person was on a watch list.

What should have been a happy arrival back to his home country became an ordeal in which Aden was told he was not being detained, but his passport was taken from him, he could not use his phone nor could he move from the seat to which he was directed — but he was “not being detained.”

With a decades-long career in law enforcement, Greenville’s former police chief knows exactly what detention is and isn’t. He also knows the meaning of the words “unreasonable detention,” and for an hour and a half, Aden watched others, all foreign nationals, come and go from the room, while he could not. Ultimately, he was cleared by CBP and allowed to catch his flight to D.C. with minutes to spare.

It was an hour and a half of one man’s life. One might argue, when hearing stories of four- to 20-hour detentions from those detained by CBP officers operating under a new mindset since President Trump’s first travel ban was launched, that an hour and a half is not so bad. It was no big deal and, really, Aden’s detention was just to protect all U.S. citizens from a potential terrorist threat.

But it was a big deal, because Aden is a U.S. citizen and one who has served this country and its people for practically all of his adult life.

Here’s what he had to say about it: “This experience has left me feeling vulnerable and unsure of the future of a country that was once great and that I proudly called my own. This experience makes me question if this is indeed home. 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. High levels of hate and injustice have been felt in vulnerable communities for decades — it is now hitting the rest of America.”

Unwanted in his own country — no matter how one looks at it, that’s no way to welcome anyone home.