Sylvia Acosta, an executive with the Young Women's Christian Association (YWCA), was returning home with her teenage daughter, Sybonae, from a European vacation. The two were stopped by customs officials as they entered the United States.
According to Acosta, the customs officer asked her about her relationship with her daughter and why the two didn't share the same last name. This upset Acosta and she took to Facebook to express her feelings.
In the post Acosta says:
I just experienced a Handmaidens [sic] Tale moment at the DFW airport by Customs and Border Protection. I was traveling back from Rome and stopped by US customs. I was asked if Sybonae was my daughter and I said yes. Then they asked why if she was my daughter I didn't have the same last name.
I told them I had already established my career and earned my doctorate with my last name Acosta so I had decided not to change it. That is why we had different names. Then the customs office said, well maybe you should have taken your husbands last names so you could prove you were her mom. I told him I had a lot of proof she was my daughter without having had his last name. He then took me to another room where they proceeded to interrogate me and my daughter to prove I was her parent.
I had to reexplain why we didn't share last names and again one said well maybe you should consider changing your name to reflect that you are her mother. I then proceeded to tell them that they were perpetuating an institutionalized misogynistic system which required that a woman take her husbands name and after that and a whole lot more about what I thought about what they had said to me that they let us go. I am furious.
Acosta also included the response from the U.S. Customs and Border Protection which read:
U.S. Customs and Border Protection has reviewed the audio and video of the encounter between a CBP officer and a woman travelling [sic] 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.
CBP strongly recommends that unless a child is accompanied by both parents, the adult traveling with the child have a note from the child's other parent (or, in the case of a child traveling with grandparents, uncles or aunts, sisters or brothers, friends, or in groups*, a note signed by both parents).
Commenters were also upset.
When asked by Texas Monthlyhow she felt about how her mother handled the situation, Sybonae said:
Well, as you know, she's the CEO of the YWCA, and their mission statement is to eliminate racism and empower women. And I think that's really what she did, because she really took a stand. And that's what she does.
The incident bears striking similarities to a scene from "Unwomen," the second episode of the second season of The Handmaid's Tale. The action––a flashback––unfolds in an airport, where Emily (Alexis Bledel), her wife, Sylvia (Clea Duvall) and their son, amidst the Gileadean takeover, attempt to leave the United States only to find that the criteria for who gets to enter and exit the country appears to have changed overnight and that their marriage license, according to a Customs official, has been declared invalid.
"You are not married. It is forbidden," the agent tells Emily. Shortly after, Emily's wife, who is a Canadian national, and their child are whisked onto a plane and out of her life forever, the protections of bureaucracy null and void.