Earlier today I landed in Boston on a Lufthansa flight from Frankfurt. The plane parked at the gate and the passengers stood and gathered luggage, as usual. Then the cabin crew announced there would be a passport check "on the plane". A few moments passed and nothing happened. Then the people ahead of me began to walk forward. I grabbed my bag and looked ahead. No officers in sight. I stepped off the plane onto the jetway. There, at the end of the tunnel, I saw two bulky, bearded Customs and Border Patrol officers. One wore a bullet proof vest and had a passenger's passport in his hand. He looked serious as he flipped the pages. His partner's attention was fixed on the line of us disembarking from the plane. I walked past him, and he looked past me. I then looked over my shoulder to see whose passport was being inspected and saw a short, well-dressed, brown-skinned woman. She was staring at her shoes. Her two children, a teenage boy in a baseball hat and younger girl, stood by her side. There appeared to be no purpose to the check other than its obvious effects: intimidation and humiliation. Probably 95% of the passengers on the flight were white.
I walked slow toward actual passport control and soon the family caught up to me. I heard the mother say to her kids "brace yourselves". I turned to her and said it seemed they were the only ones on the plane who were stopped. "We're just lucky," she replied, shaking her head. Then she added: "Maybe it's because my son got off the plane first, and I was in the back, and he told them he wasn't sure where his mom was."
What else could she say?
Moments later, as I stood in line waiting for a passport stamp, I heard a woman shouting. A different woman, middle-aged, black, speaking with a Caribbean accent, was being led away - directly from the arrivals area, past passport control to somewhere downstairs. She was cursing loudly at the four white male CBP officers who surrounded and led her away.
I had my passport stamped by a woman named Thai who had gentle eyes. "Welcome home," she said.