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USA Second Screeening Of Turbans Now Mandatory At US Airports


1947-2014 (Archived)
Jun 17, 2004
Three civil liberties organizations say the rights of Sikhs in America are being further trampled upon as the Transportation Security Administration rolls out a new policy which will mandatorily require all turbaned Sikhs to undergo three levels of security screening at U.S. airports.

The new policy was first unveiled at a Sept. 21 meeting with representatives from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund, Kimberly Walton, TSA Special Counsel, and Margo Schlanger, officer for civil rights and civil liberties at the Department of Homeland Security.

That meeting was ostensibly held to discuss new advanced imaging technology scanners – also known as backscatter x-rays - that are being rolled out throughout the nation’s airports. More than 750 such devices will be installed by next year, and allow TSA screeners to view a full-body, nude image of each passenger.

Advanced imaging technology enhances security by detecting both metallic and non-metallic threat items concealed under layers of clothing, says the TSA in an advisory to travelers displayed on its Web site. Scanners are designed to be able to detect explosive devices under several layers of clothing.

But the civil rights organizations learned at that meeting that all turbaned Sikhs would now have to undergo two additional compulsory screenings in addition to the body scan, including examination by a hand-held metal detector and a turban pat-down.

Sikhs can elect to pat down their own turbans, but will then have their hands swabbed for trace chemicals.

The TSA has long allowed its screeners to use their own discretion to determine whether a turban needs patting down. It defines this nebulous policy under its dictates for “loose-fitting clothing” which can also require a pat-down at the screener’s discretion.

Hansdeep Singh, senior staff attorney at United Sikhs, told India-West that though body scanners were specifically designed to detect explosive devices under layers of clothing, TSA officials have said the technology cannot penetrate the many layers of a turban.

“We had been told that body scanners would be the solution to the issue of (turban) pat-downs,” he said, adding that AITs are the most-advanced imaging systems in the world.

Singh, who wears a turban, said that he is currently pulled aside for a secondary screening about 90 percent of the time. He will now have to undergo two additional screenings every time he flies.

“Sikhs are viewed as suspects and automatically suspected of wrongdoing by the general public who see these screenings every time they fly,” said Singh.

(The TSA) is “targeting a certain population in an attempt to make other passengers feel safe,” J.J. Singh, president of AllDocuments software in Redwood City, Calif., told India-West. “This extra layer of security is ridiculous.”

At a Sept. 23 hearing of the San Francisco Human Rights Commission, Singh and his eight-year-old son Josh testified to being routinely pulled aside for secondary screenings. Josh wears a small turban known as a patka.

A TSA advisory states that travelers who wear loose-fitting clothing may also be subject to an additional pat-down during security screenings.

“This is a very problematically narrow policy and more upsetting because turbans are rarely loose-fitting,” Veena Dubal, staff attorney for the Asian Law Caucus, told India-West.

No defined policy exists about what constitutes “loose fitting clothing,” said Dubal. “It is completely subjective,” she asserted, adding that it remained unclear whether the new policy of additional screenings for turbans would also be applied to hijabs.



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