In San Francisco, a woman says she and her family were humiliated and disrespected by an airport customs officer who threatened to withhold her mother's green card because of her limited English proficiency.
In a public Facebook post published Sunday, Hsin-Hung Lin recounted her recent racist interaction with Theo Bruinsma, a customs officer at San Francisco International Airport while she and her family were returning home from an overseas trip for her grandmother's funeral. They were already emotionally drained, but she says Bruinsma made the situation worse when he began to mock and threaten her mother.
"So you're telling me she's lived in the U.S. for fourteen years, and she can't speak English?" Bruinsma asked incredulously, according to Lin. Then he said to Lin, "Tell your mom my Chinese is better than her English."
Up to this point, it can be argued that this guy was just being an unprofessional asshole. But things proceeded to escalate, and Bruinsma threatened to withhold Lin's mother's green card -- basically illegally detaining her.
"Tell her if she wants her green card back she needs to learn to follow directions," Bruinsma said. "She's clearly not cooperating so she doesn't want to get her green card back."
Here's Hsin-Hung Lin's full account of their experience:
To #racist #SFO Customs Officer Theo Bruinsma who made my family's emotionally draining trip back from my grandmother's funeral just THAT much worse, I wish you full knowledge that I am putting you on blast.
When I initially first saw your frowning face and impatient hand gestures beckoning us to your work station, I gave you the benefit of doubt; everyone has rough days, right?
However, while you proceeded to fail to communicate effectively with my family through hand gestures, which you decided to substitute for words, you were extremely clear when you mocked and threatened my mom.
You looked at my mother's green card, heard us speaking Mandarin to my mother, and asked, "She's lived in the United States for fourteen years, and she doesn't know how to speak English?" We told you yes. Then I guess your curiosity killed your respect since you re-asked incredulously, "So you're telling me she's lived in the U.S. for fourteen years, and she can't speak English?" while shaking your head.
I thought we moved past our rough patch, but after I used Mandarin to guide my mom to place her four fingers and then her thumb on the fingerprint scanner, you thought it was okay to comment, "Tell your mom my Chinese is better than her English."
Then, when I had to tell my mom to look into the camera for her photo since you decided to gesture vaguely at yourself while saying, "look this way", you had the audacity to initiate this conversation:
"Ask her if she wants her green card back." I said, "Sorry?" since I thought I heard you wrong. and you said again, "Ask her", at which point you should have known that our silence indicated you were undeserving of our acknowledgment. But you pressed, "No, tell your mom that if she wants her green card back she will follow directions."
I told you she was following directions just fine, and that I wasn't going to tell my mom anything of that sort. You then told me, "No, she's not. Tell her if she wants her green card back she needs to learn to follow directions. She's clearly not cooperating so she doesn't want to get her green card back."
When we called you out on your rude behavior, you decided to refuse service to us, "Oh look, she just made my system crash. Go back in line. Back up, just go wait."
But I guess since you were adjacent to Officer Ho, who next helped us, you decided to continue our talk through the glass barrier, mocking our anger and then proceeding to help the next family in line since your "crashed" system was magically revived. Your Mandarin, which you decided to flaunt loudly while talking to the next family, only solidified our understanding that you are an unapologetic ass.
But let me tell you this: my mother is a brave and hardworking woman who made a lot of sacrifices so she and my father could bring my siblings and I to the United States -- a place where they had absolutely no friends, no family, and had to depend on their near-complete lack of ability to speak English in order to make ends meet. My mother does not need people like you to remind her that she struggles with English, for every day she is reminded that her life in the U.S. lacks comforting Chinese characters. She is someone who instilled in my siblings and I the importance of accepting everyone for who they are, and her inability to speak English well does not reflect her attempts to communicate and improve her English when running errands on a daily basis. For all of this and much more, I could not allow you to disrespect my mother.
I don't care who you are, or what kind of authority your position wields. This kind of disrespect from a public servant is unprofessional and completely unacceptable. One can only assume Bruinsma does this on a regular basis to the limited English proficient speakers he encounters going through customs. There's taking your job seriously, and there's just being f*cking jerk. But I'm sure we're all safer now.
Is this really the kind of guy you want greeting first arrivals to the United States?