WASHINGTON – An American NASA engineer was detained for several hours by US Customs officers, who forced him to unlock his PIN-protected work phone before they would let him through at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.
“On my way home to the US last weekend, I was detained by Homeland Security and held with others who were stranded under the Muslim ban,” Sidd Bikkannavar, a NASA American scientist of Indian origin, wrote in a Facebook post shared by a friend on Twitter, CNN reported on Monday, February 13.
“I initially refused, since it’s a (NASA)-issued phone and I must protect access,” Bikkannavar wrote.
“Just to be clear — I’m a US-born citizen and NASA engineer, traveling with a valid US passport. Once they took both my phone and the access PIN, they returned me to the holding area with cots and other sleeping detainees until they finished copying my data.”
Born in Pasadena, Bikkannavar, 35, designs technology for space telescopes like the enormous James Webb telescope that’s set to be launched into orbit in 2018.
He was returning to the United States shortly after President Donald Trump issued an executive order blocking immigrants from seven Muslim-majority nations and all refugees.
The case is one of 10 complaints filed by the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR) with CBP, the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice alleging systematic targeting of American-Muslim citizens for enhanced screening by CBP.
CAIR-Florida spokseman Wilfredo A. Ruiz says citizens must surrender laptops and phones if a border agent asks for them, but not the passwords or social media information.
“Sometimes they play hardball and delay you, maybe cause you to miss your flight or get home hours later,” he said. “There’s no magic formula.”
Ruiz, a convert to Islam, said he doesn’t know if Bikkannavar is a Muslim, and that it doesn’t matter.
“This widens the scope of those being targeted to those who are not perceived as being the traditional, white American,” Ruiz said. “It is not a Muslim issue.”