Traveling is a real pain in the ass, but it's especially hellish for immigrants who have to navigate the cruel world of customs.  One journalist, who happens to be a U.S. citizen, shared her troubling incident at immigration to expose just how scary traveling can be for foreigners coming to America.

Maria Abi-Habib, a Middle East correspondent for The Wall Street Journal, had an alarming experience with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

She traveled from Beirut to Los Angeles on July 14 to attend a wedding.

A photo posted by Maria Abi-Habib (@abihabib) on

Yet, a DHS officer treated her suspiciously while she waited in a line for customs. The DHS agent told Abi-Habib she wanted to help her navigate immigration because she has "traveled to many dangerous places that are on the US' radar for terrorism."

The situation seemed unusual to Al-Habib, even though she is accustomed to having her name on a special list when she's traveling.

A photo posted by Maria Abi-Habib (@abihabib) on

"I've had US Immigration officials tell me my name is on a special list that allows me to circumvent the questioning most would receive if they had a similar travel profile or internet print (talking to members of known terrorist groups)," she wrote on Facebook. "I travel to the US about twice a year and have always remarked on how smooth my experiences at Customs/Immigration are."

However, the officer's behavior seemed suspicious.

"Oh, there you are. I was trying to recognize you from your picture. I'm here to help you get through the line," the DHS officer told her while she waited in line. 

The officer also knew where Abi-Habib works, the countries she's reported from, intimate details about her Twitter account, and even the recent pieces she's written for The Wall Street Journal.

The officer's knowledge seemed like a red flag to Abi-Habib.

The agent guided her to the front of the immigration line, where another customs agent joined them. That's when the hour-long grilling began.

The interrogation process quickly escalated. 

The agents asked her a series of random questions, like how she spent her time in the U.S. Abi-Habib complied with their questions, but that wasn't enough. Without warning, the officers asked her to turn over her two cellphones.

She asked the officers to contact The Wall Street Journal, since the phones are technically their property. Abi-Habib also stood her ground, reminding the officers of her First Amendment rights as a journalist. 

The officer replied, "Did you just admit you collect information for foreign governments?" 

Abi-Habib shared the entire horrifying experience on Facebook.

She wants to raise awareness about the unfairness of immigration laws — and how immigrants can protect themselves.

"She handed me a DHS document, a photo of which I've attached. It basically says the US government has the right to seize my phones and my rights as a US citizen (or citizen of the world) go out the window," Abi-Habib said in her Facebook post. 
"This law applies at any point of entry into the US, whether naval, air or land and extends for 100 miles into the US from the border or formal points of entry. So, all of NYC for instance. If they forgot to ask you at JFK airport for your phones, but you're having a drink in Manhattan the next day, you technically fall under this authority. And because they are acting under the pretense to protect the US from terrorism, you have to give it up."

She also shared details about what can happen to immigrants targeted in airports.

There's A LOT of grey area and vague wording, but the bottom line is a person's rights are thrown out when they're deemed "suspicious."

Even the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) confirms that customs and immigration agents can restrain and fully search a U.S. citizen's personal electronics within 100 miles of a point of entry:

"The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution protects us against unreasonable government searches and seizures. This generally means the government has to show a court probable cause that a crime has been committed and get a warrant before it can search a location or item in which you have a reasonable expectation of privacy. 

But searches at places where people enter or leave the United States may be considered 'reasonable' simply because they happen at the border or an international airport," the guide states. "For now, a border agent has the legal authority to search your electronic devices at the border even if she has no reason to think that you’ve done anything wrong."

The EFF wrote the detailed guide in 2011, and Abi-Habib shared the link on Twitter on July 2. She dubbed it a warning for her fellow journalists.

Some people are even sharing their own uncomfortable experiences with immigration officers.

wsj-journalist-immigration-unfair-vivala
photo: Facebook

Al-Habib also shared four vital tips from an encryption expert:

1. Know your rights.

"My rights as a journalist or US citizen do not apply at the border, as explained above, since legislation was quietly passed in 2013 giving DHS very broad powers (I researched this since the incident). This legislation also circumvents the Fourth Amendment that protects Americans' privacy and prevents searches and seizures without a proper warrant."

2. There's power in encryption.

"Always use encryption, but even this cannot keep you 100% safe. If you are contacting someone about a sensitive matter, use an application like Signal. But if DHS seizes your phone, they can see you've been speaking to that person, although if you erase your chats, they won't see what you spoke about."

3. Do not download anything suspicious.

"Never download anything or even open a link from a friend or source that looks suspicious. This may be malware, meaning that they have downloaded software on your phone that will be able to circumvent the powers of encryption. Don't leave your phone unattended for the same reasons - they can just open it up and download malware."

4. Always remember to travel naked.

"Travel 'naked' as one encryption expert told me. If any government wants your information, they will get it no matter what. Remember the San Bernardino shooter? Apple refused to comply, so the US got the information by paying an Israeli company $1 million to unlock the shooter's phone. So if you have something extra sensitive on your device - phone or laptop - do not travel with it and instead use your sim card in a clean phone. And for sensitive numbers, write them on a piece of paper you can somehow secure and then restore the factory settings on your phone — which seems to be the only way of wiping it clean 100%."

Abi-Habib's FB post is quickly catching momentum with 731 shares and counting.

Even the Facebook reactions show how absurd the situation is.

Abi-Habib's horrifying experience wasn't the first, and unfortunately, won't be the last. It does, however, shed light on the shady practices the government uses.

A photo posted by Maria Abi-Habib (@abihabib) on

"...Maybe they expect me of terrorism or sympathizing with terrorists — although my profile wouldn't fit, considering I am named Maria Teresa, and for a variety of other reasons including my small child," she wrote on Facebook.

We can't even imagine what could have happened to Abi-Habib if she wasn't traveling with her American passport. 

Our eyes are open.

Main Image: Instagram/Abihabib