• Welcome to all New Sikh Philosophy Network Forums!
    Explore Sikh Sikhi Sikhism...
    Sign up Log in

USA American Sikhs Decry Screenings


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
WASHINGTON — Three national Sikh advocacy and civil rights organizations have said federal transportation officials plan to always search turbans at airport screening stations, even if wearers pass through state-of-the-art body imaging scanners.

The groups are calling on their constituents to lobby Congress and the Transportation Security Administration to overturn what they said was an “unjust policy.”

Officials from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund went public on Friday about their meeting several weeks ago with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and the T.S.A.

“All of us jointly feel there are definitely some elements of racial profiling here,” said Jasjit Singh, associate director of the legal defense fund, a civil rights group in Washington.

Hansdeep Singh, a senior staff lawyer for United Sikhs, based in New York, said the meeting in Washington was arranged to hear about how new “advanced imaging technology” scanners would affect Sikhs, who had hoped the devices would eliminate the need for extra screening that they say they are subjected to at airports.

“We went in there with high hopes,” Mr. Singh said.

But the Sikhs said they were told that the turbans will be treated “as a per se anomaly,” Mr. Singh said. That will give security officers the discretion they already have — to conduct additional screening of the turbans, which they usually do already, according to the Sikhs.

They said T.S.A. officials declined, because of security reasons, to tell them whether the scanner is incapable of seeing through a turban, which typically has layers of fabric.

When selected for further screening, Sikhs have the option of having their turbans patted down by a T.S.A. officer or patting down their own turbans, after which their hands are inspected for trace chemicals. They will also be screened with a hand-held metal detector, which they say is a new level of screening.

Unlike metal detectors, body scanners can detect objects made with other materials, like plastic and ceramic.

They are designed to identify explosives, like the type used by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a transcontinental airliner over Detroit last Christmas. The scanners cannot detect all explosives, however.

There are more than 300 body scanners in place at 65 airports, according to the T.S.A. Web site. An additional 450 scanners are set to be installed by next year.

A T.S.A. spokeswoman, Sterling Payne, would not comment on the Sikhs’ accusations, or say whether there had been any change in procedures.

“Removal of all headwear is recommended, but the rules accommodate those with religious, medical or other reasons for which the passenger wishes not to remove the item,” Ms. Payne said. “If the officer cannot reasonably determine that the clothing or head covering is free of a threat item, individuals will be referred for additional screening.”

With the new body scanners, Ms. Payne said, officers still “screen bulky items to ensure they do not contain a threat, which includes the use of a hand-held metal detector.”

The advocacy groups met with Margo Schlanger, the officer for civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security, and Kimberly Walton, a special counselor to the T.S.A. administrator, John Pistole.

The T.S.A. regularly updates its screening procedures and sometimes declines to publicly discuss its security methods.

“While you’re spending that much time on Sikh Americans, who have absolutely no incidents of terrorism in the country, other people are getting through,” Jasjit Singh said.

Sikhs and T.S.A. officials previously worked out a protocol for removing turbans in private.

“In our faith, it’s the equivalent to being forced to be naked, effectively,” Mr. Singh said.




📌 Follow the Official Sikh Philosophy Network Channel on WhatsApp: