A Pakistani-born member of the New South Wales Parliament was detained at the Los Angeles airport after Immigration officials asked how she was granted an Australian passport and where she was “originally from”.
The Guardian reported that Mehreen Faruqi, a Greens member of the NSW legislative council, and her husband, were detained for more than an hour after trying to clear immigration at the airport on Thursday, in a case of what she called “racial profiling”.
She said she had presented her passport and had been fingerprinted by officials at the airport before being asked “how we got Australian passports”.
“We said it was because we lived there and they asked where we were originally from. When we said Pakistan we were told that someone would be escorting us to the interview room.”
She said she was asked in a “really aggressive” manner if she could present identification other than her Australian passport.
She and her husband were taken to an interview room in which they were separated and interrogated in front of about 10 others waiting in the room.
“The interview was along the same lines: why are you here, do you have a Pakistani passport, have you been to Pakistan, what do you do there,” she said.
Mehreen, who has lived in Australia for 24 years and has been a citizen for 22 years, was elected MP in 2013.
“To be asked how I got an Australian passport is ridiculous on one level and heart-wrenching at another,” she said. “You don’t expect it, you know you haven’t done anything. It’s a little bit embarrassing.”
They were eventually allowed to proceed with their trip to the US, where Mehreen, the Greens spokeswoman on drugs and harm minimisation, would meet drug law reform experts and campaigners in California and Oregon.
She said her case might be noticed because she held a public office but “I know that people are treated this way every day”.
“The concern for me is that the political debate about racism and Islamophobia is at a very low level at the moment and it feeds into this sort of thing.”
In December 2014, the then US attorney-general, Eric Holder, revised US justice department rules to prevent FBI agents from considering factors such as religion and national origin when opening cases.
But the federal government granted exemptions to parts of the Department of Homeland Security, effectively permitting racial profiling to continue in airports, the Washington Post reported.
The US embassy in Delhi apologised in 2012 after Bollywood star Shah Rukh Khan was detained for 90 minutes by border protection officers at a New York airport.