Civil rights groups are criticizing border agents' "sledgehammer approach" to vetting international travelers at airports around the country, a troubling trend as President Donald Trump prepares to sign his new ban on immigrants and refugees.
Agents are reportedly detaining and threatening to deport travelers, questioning them about their religions, and demanding access to their phones and social media platforms, often targeting those with non-Western names or in certain professions—including Muhammad Ali's American-born son and a French Holocaust historian.
"Customs and Border Patrol [CBP] agents are feeling more emboldened by the signal being sent from the White House," Jay Holland, a civil rights attorney, told The Hill. "We are seeing a real difference here in terms of the aggressiveness and in terms of the implementation of enforcement efforts, no doubt about it."
"It's basically a sledgehammer approach," he said.
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The issue is particularly worrying as the White House is expected to unveil a new executive order on immigration that the administration has promised will be "tailored" to survive a court battle, unlike Trump's previous memorandum, which was suspended just days after its implementation in January.
Insiders say the new order lifts the freeze on allowing travelers from Iraq, one of the countries included on the list of seven majority-Muslim nations from the first memo. It is also only likely to target new visa applicants, while the original affected existing visa-holders as well.
The new order was expected to come as early as Wednesday, but White House officials reportedly scrapped the signage amid positive reviews of Trump's first address to a joint session of Congress. Still, that speech included the announcement of a new federal office to support "American victims" of crimes committed by undocumented immigrants, giving little reassurance that the president's stance on immigration had softened.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said in an email to supporters that it was ready to take on what they called the "Muslim Ban 2.0."
"No matter how he seeks to disguise the true intent of the new order," wrote the group's executive director Anthony D. Romero, "we are prepared to come to the immediate defense of any people whose rights it puts in jeopardy. "