Mom Experiences ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ Moment During CBP’s Sexist Grilling

The customs officer told Sylvia Acosta “we have to make sure you’re not a human trafficker” and her “life would have been easier” if she had taken her husband's last name.


In a supreme example of misogyny, Customs and Border Patrol agents detained a Texan woman and her daughter, in an incident that is reminiscent of “The Handmaid’s Tale.”

Sylvia Acosta and her 15-year-old daughter, Sybonae Castillo, were returning home after a student trip with Education First Tours and had landed at the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, when they were stopped and questioned by the border agents over the most bizarre thing: to prove they were mother and daughter.

It should also be noted both Acosta and her daughter are American citizens.

In a Facebook post, Acosta recounted the entire “violating and demeaning” ordeal calling it a “Handmaid’s Tale” moment. She said a CBP agent asked her whether she was Sybonae’s mother and when she replied yes, he asked “why don't you have the same last name?”

Acosta, who has a doctorate degree and is the CEO of Young Woman's Christian Association, a non-profit organization geared toward ending racism and empowering women, told him she decided not to change her name after she got married because she had built her career around her name and people knew her by that. However, the agent remained unconvinced and asked her if she actually had “proof” that Sybonae was her daughter, requesting her birth certificate or a note from her father.

“He asked if I had a divorce decree to prove it,” the executive laughed. “I was like, 'who carries a divorce decree? Is this required?' And he said, 'no, it was recommended.’”

However, it was then that the interrogation took a very strange turn.

The agent told Acosta she “could be a human trafficker and I have no proof she is my daughter.”

“And I said, ‘Are you serious?’” Acosta recounted. “And he said yes. He goes, ‘You know, we have to make sure you’re not a human trafficker.’”

He then said something very demeaning to the woman.

“He told me my life would have been easier if I had taken my husband's last name,” the woman wrote incredulously.

The mother and daughter spent 30 minutes in humiliation in a back room but were finally allowed to leave. Sybonae was never asked any questions about her relationship.

"I was so confused because we had done nothing wrong and had everything we needed and it's only because we had different last names," the 15-year-old told Buzzfeed. "Not a word was said to me. They never asked me anything and disregarded my presence entirely."

Acosta complained to the CBP about her treatment but the response she got was not at all satisfying. The agency said the agent had done nothing wrong and was only following protocol.

“U. S. Customs and Border Protection has reviewed the audio and video of the encounter between a CBP officer and a woman travelling with her daughter, and found that the video does not support the claim as it has been reported. The audio and video prove that there weren’t any inappropriate questions discussed,” the agency said.

CBP also cited former President Bush’s 2008 act against human trafficking that required customs agent to ask additional questions if a relationship between a minor and an accompanying adult can’t be determined. If the child is not traveling with both her parents, the agency recommends keeping a note from the minor’s other parents on hand to ensure they do not have trouble passing through.

Acosta’s daughter said thought eh ordeal was “frustrating,” it taught her a valuable lesson.

“My mom built success for herself and kept her last name for that reason. She's my role model so to see them acting so disrespectful to her was upsetting but it taught me a lot about the struggles of being a woman even now in America,” Sybonae shared. “Yes, we made progress and things are better but we still have a long way to go.”

“She raised me to stand up for who I am when situations like that do happen and I saw her stand up for herself," she added. "It helped me see my values as a woman and that we need to speak up for ourselves.”

Thumbnail/Banner Credits: Sarah Silbiger/CQ Roll Call via Getty

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