Ever since Jimmy Carter was president, summer has meant one thing for Majed Shehadeh and his wife, Joanne Mulligan: time to pack. From their modest house in Bavaria, they migrate annually to their summer home in Massachusetts, where Ms. Mulligan was born and raised, with the accent to prove it.

But after making regular trips for decades, Mr. Shehadeh’s last visit went deeply awry, indefinitely suspending his plans for returning.

A Syrian-born German citizen, he was detained when he flew into Las Vegas in December to celebrate his daughter’s passing of the California bar exam. He was then strip-searched, denied his prescription medication, and kept in a crowded jail cell with no mattresses and a single toilet out in the open. Three days later, he was sent back to Germany.

“Since that ordeal, I’m afraid to go [to the US], and my husband can’t go at all. For us, it’s a catastrophe,” says Mulligan.

Five years after 9/11, intensified security measures resulted in more than 500 people per day being denied entry to the US in 2006. For those traveling by air, that often means spending at least one night in detention.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has numerous mechanisms to ensure that travelers’ civil rights are upheld during such detentions.

But a handful of high-profile cases like Shehadeh’s, as well as critical reviews of detention facilities by DHS and civil-rights groups, indicate the enormous challenges in ensuring that the urgent effort to make the US more secure doesn’t come at the expense of personal dignity and constitutional protections.


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