Said Ahmed is a member of the US Track and Field Team. He was born in Somalia, and came to Boston in 1995. A US citizen, he now teaches at a Boston high school, runs a youth group and continues to train and run for the United States.
Soon after 9/11, his traveling problems began. He was on the University of Arkansas track and field team and would fly to NCAA tournaments from the small airport at Fayetteville. Every time he would be searched, and sometimes strip searched. Dogs would be brought to sniff his luggage. The rest of his teammates would not be able to check in until his search was ended. The screeners all knew him and would say things like, “Said, get your name off the list. We can’t print a ticket until we search you.”
After graduating, he continued to travel abroad to compete for the US team. He would also make frequent trips to Egypt to visit his wife and child. He met her when he was training and running in the Middle East on a Nike contract.
Eventually, he had an easier time getting onto planes, but was always pulled aside and forced to wait for four or five hours when returning to the United States.
“Logan Airport has been particularly bad, even though I know the border people there since I travel so much. One time when I was returning to Boston one of the border officials yelled over to me, ‘how’s Somalia?’ even though I haven’t gone there for years.”
On Thanksgiving in 2009 he returned to Boston in order to hold a sports event for Somali youth. He was held for four hours at the airport. When everyone else was gone, officials took his computer and cell phone and downloaded his pictures. They kept his passport which eventually ended up in the hands of the FBI. He had to pay $150 for a new one.
In the spring of 2010, when he returned to Logan from visiting his wife and child in Egypt, border control officials again took all of his property – his laptop, cameral, cell phone and iPod. After about four hours, he asked to see the supervisor and was told he was “busy.” He then told the officials they were behaving in a “racist way.” At that point, a woman came in with a dog and ordered him to sit down. While they were searching his suitcase they asked him what tribe he was from – “American tribe” he said. They told him how split “Somali tribes” are and how they like to fight each other.
His experience with the FBI has been nearly as frustrating as his experience with border officials. An FBI agent and another law enforcement official first came to his house while he was competing in Stockholm, and left their cards with his mother. His mother called him, sounding very upset, and asked him to call them right away. He subsequently made two appointments to meet with them, and they didn’t show up.
Later, the same FBI agent and a state trooper stopped him when he is going to a Somali community center to do a youth fundraising event, “I told him it was wrong for them to sit outside the center in their car and stop kids who can’t speak English properly and are scared.”
When he eventually met with them, they asked him what is going on in Somalia and offered him money if he would work with them. He declined the offer. They showed him pictures downloaded from his computer and cellphone, including some of his wife without her hijab and one of him in traditional Egyptian garb. They kept asking him why he was dressed like that.
“I am not anti law enforcement,” Said says. “I have been trying to get the Boston police to come and do things like sports with the kids so they will get to know them and think of them as human beings and friends. But that hasn’t worked.”
He sounds disillusioned with the country. “I was living the American dream, but then the dream crashed,” he says.