Alex was born in 2000.
“They hauled us out of the line and into a holding room,” said Ms. Harris. “It’s 8 o’clock on a Saturday night and they said, ‘We have to call Washington to have him cleared.’ And I’m like, ‘Just who do you suppose is available in Washington at 8 o’clock on a Saturday night?’ ”
It took more than two hours before Alex, a United States citizen like his parents and twin brother, was free to go. That was in late 2006. Six months later, the family arrived again from London, around 11 p.m.
Again, Alex was detained, his mother said, even though she carried his birth certificate and Social Security card.
“I said, ‘Look at him. He’s clearly not a terrorist. He’s 7!’ ” she said.
At one point, after being ordered not to use her cellphone in the holding room, Ms. Harris says she uttered an expletive.
“The officer in charge goes, ‘You can’t swear in here,’ and I go, ‘Oh really? What do you have, the seven curse words written down?’ ” she recalled.
This kind of approach, as Ms. Harris readily conceded, does not usually work with bureaucrats, especially ones holding your passport. She took her husband’s advice and piped down.
Ms. Harris said that when she asked how to get her son off the list, the response was a shrug.
Government officials defend the list, with compelling evidence, as a vital security measure. The authorities said they were well aware of the problems caused by frequent “false positives” — names that are the same as or similar to the names of actual terrorist suspects on the watch list.