U.S. Customs Destroy Rare Instruments, Livelihood, Won't Apologize


creative commons

Holiday travel can be a hassle. It can be an even bigger hassle when U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officials destroy rare instruments on which your livelihood depends. 

That's what happened to Boujemaa Razgui, a renowned musician who was returning from Morocco to his New York City residence in time for Christmas. Razgui was transporting 11 rare handcrafted flutes, called neys, some of which he manufactured in the US. Nevertheless, the CBP "identified the instruments… as agricultural products that risked introducing 'exotic plant pathogens' in to the United States" and destroyed them, reports Foreign Policy

Razgui was shocked to find his carrying case emptied."I fly with them in and out all the time and this is the first time there has been a problem," he told the Boston Globe. "They told me they were destroyed," but "nobody talked to me. They said I have to write a letter to the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C. This is horrible. I don't know what to do," Razgui explained, "This is my life."

That's no exaggeration. Razgui, who has performed with various groups throughout the US for over a decade, is one of only 15 people in the country with this specific kind of flute. Razgui has not yet determined how he will be able to fulfill his commitments for upcoming performances.

When asked by Foreign Policy, the law enforcement agency refuses to apologize to for the mishap. Officials insist that the action was necessary, because of the potential threat that "fresh bamboo canes" pose. The CBP's website states:

In general, bamboo that is not thoroughly dried and is therefore still capable of propagation is prohibited entry into the United States.
Bamboo that is thoroughly dried and split or cut lengthwise (rendering it incapable of propagation) will be inspected upon entry and released.

Unsplit dried bamboo canes/stakes/poles also are allowed entry into the United States after inspection: however, if the bamboo canes/stakes/poles are intended for garden or nursery use, the shipment must be fumigated (T404-d treatment extended to 24 hours) upon arrival at the U.S. port of entry.

Bamboo furniture, bamboo cloth, and other manufactured products made of bamboo do not require fumigation and will be released upon inspection.

The problem is, neys aren't made of bamboo, and even if they were, simply looking at them would be enough to tell that the instruments were cut, dried, and obviously incapable of propagation.

For more head-scratching policies from agencies that operate under the Department of Homeland Security, watch ReasonTV's video on 12 banned holiday items: