I was detained
last night by federal authorities at San Francisco International
Airport for refusing to answer questions about why I had travelled
outside the United States.
result is that, after waiting for about half an hour and refusing
to answer further questions, I was released – because U.S.
citizens who have produced proof of citizenship and a written customs
declaration are not obligated to answer questions.
you in China?” asked the passport control officer, a woman
with the appearance and disposition of a prison matron.
of your business,” I said.
Her eyes widened
me?” she asked.
not going to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my
own country,” I said.
This did not
go over well. She asked a series of questions, such as how long
I had been in China, whether I was there on personal business or
commercial business, etc. I stood silently. She said that her questions
were mandated by Congress and that I should complain to Congress
instead of refusing to cooperate with her.
She asked me
to take one of my small bags off her counter. I complied.
up the phone and told someone I “was refusing to cooperate
at all.” This was incorrect. I had presented her with proof
of citizenship (a U.S. passport) and had moved the bag when she
asked. What I was refusing to do was answer her questions.
A male Customs
and Border Protection officer appeared to escort me to “Secondary.”
He tried the good cop routine, cajoling me to just answer a few
questions so that I could be on my way. I repeated that I refused
to be interrogated as a pre-condition of re-entering my own country.
free to go?” I asked.
asked for state-issued ID. I gave him my California Identification
Card. I probably didn’t have to, but giving him the ID was
in line with my principle that I will comply with an officer’s
reasonable physical requests (stand here, go there, hand over this)
but I will not answer questions about my business abroad.
led me into a waiting room with about thirty chairs. Six other people
changed tack to bad cop. “Let this guy sit until he cools down,”
the officer loudly said to a colleague. “It could be two, three,
four hours. He’s gonna sit there until he cools down.”
I asked to
speak to his superior and was told to wait.
I read a book
about Chinese celebrities for about 15 minutes.
An older, rougher
officer came out and called my name. “We’ve had problems
with you refusing to answer questions before,” he said. “You
think there’s some law that says you don’t have to answer
denying me re-entrance to my own country?” I asked.