In a shocking incident, an Indian-origin NASA scientist who is a Muslim was arrested at the US border by customs officials on Wednesday. He was also forced to unlock his PIN-protected work phone.
Sidd Bikkannavar, 35, said in a post on social media that "US Customs and Border Protection officers wanted my cell phone and password before they let me through at Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport."
“On my way home to the US last weekend, I was detained by Homeland Security and held with others who were stranded under the Muslim ban,” Bikkannavar wrote in a Facebook post.
“I initially refused, since it’s a (NASA)-issued phone and I must protect access,” Bikkannavar wrote.
Bikkannavar was born in Pasadena. He designs technology for space telescopes like the enormous James Webb telescope that is yet set to be launched into orbit in 2018.
“Just to be clear - I’m a US-born citizen and NASA engineer, travelling with a valid US passport. Once they took both my phone and the access PIN, they returned me to the holding area with cots and other sleeping detainees until they finished copying my data.”
Bikkannavar had spent some days pursuing his hobby of racing solar-powered cars. As a member of a Chilean team, he went to Patagonia in early January under the Obama administration.
He returned after Donald Trump became the President. Trump had issued the executive order banning Muslims to travel to the United States.
Bikkannavar is a born US citizen who enrolled in a programme that permits individuals to quickly enter the country after they passed background checks. He is also a 10-year old employee of a major US federal agency.
“I don’t know what to think about this. I was caught a little off-guard by the whole thing,” Bikkannavar told media here in a phone call.
Bikkannavar described his experience on Facebook, revealing his absence to friends and coworkers.
“I’m back home, and JPL has been running forensics on the phone to determine what CBP/homeland security might have taken, or whether they installed anything on the device,” Bikkannavar explained in the post, adding that "I have also been working with JPL legal counsel and the lab has issued him a new phone and new phone number."
From the time Donald Trump has banned all Muslim countries to enter into the US, there has been huge protest. Even Indian students studying in the US were asked leave the country but they pleaded the governtment to allow them to complete their studies.
BY M. DIVYA SRI