Retired police chief says he was detained at the airport because of his name

Airport passengers.
(Image credit: Win McNamee/Getty Images)

While returning home from his mother's birthday celebration in Paris, Hassan Aden, the retired police chief of Greenville, North Carolina, says he was unfairly detained for 90 minutes at New York City's John F. Kennedy International Airport because of his name.

The 52-year-old naturalized American citizen was born in Italy to an Italian mother and Somali father, and has lived in the United States for 42 years. Aden told The Washington Post he was asked when he arrived at customs on March 13 if he was traveling alone, and when he replied in the affirmative, he was told to "take a walk." He said he was brought back to an office with signs that said "remain seated at all times" and "use of telephones strictly prohibited" without being told why he was there. After several minutes, Aden said he asked the U.S. Customs and Border Protection officer why he was being detained and told him about his career in law enforcement. The officer was unmoved, Aden said, and told him he wasn't being detained and someone on a "watch list" was using his name.

A different officer eventually took over his case, and after she contacted another agency multiple times, Aden was let go. "I wondered about others," Aden said. "What happens to people when they don't know any better? I'm sure it's terrorizing a lot of people and not making us any safer." He is not a Muslim, but told the Post that he believes the "cold and unwelcoming" new immigration policies set forth by the Trump administration could make authorities suspicious of his name. "I fully support the mission of the Customs and Border Protection agency," he said. "And I fully appreciate the difficulty of their job and the dangers of their job. What I question here is essentially their policies and what they view as a reasonable detention. And I would venture to say that 90 minutes is an unreasonable detention when there is no probable cause to believe that a crime has occurred."

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A spokeswoman for U.S Customs and Border Protection said she could not comment on Aden's claim because of privacy, adding, "At times, travelers may be inconvenienced as we work through the arrival process to ensure those entering the country are doing so legitimately and lawfully."

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Catherine Garcia

Catherine Garcia is night editor for Her writing and reporting has appeared in Entertainment Weekly and, The New York Times, The Book of Jezebel, and other publications. A Southern California native, Catherine is a graduate of the University of Redlands and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.