Sikhs Cautioned Over ‘Random’ Air Searches
By Joseph Orovic
The skies remain anything but friendly for the Sikh community months after a national uproar over enhanced pat-downs and full body scanners largely subsided.
An alert sent by the Sikh Coalition lays out the procedure members of the community can expect - and tips.
But the gist is rather simple: If you wear a turban, be ready to undergo an additional search.
"Sikhs should now expect to be secondarily screened 100 percent of the time at American airports, even after passing through so-called Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines," the coalition said. "Although [the Transportation Security Administration] publicly asserts on its Web site that such machines can see through 'layers of clothing,' the TSA has made clear in both word and practice that such machines are not powerful enough to see through Sikh turbans."
|Members of the Sikh community, which number in the thousands in Queens, are being cautioned that they will be “randomly’ searched at airports 100 percent of the time.
Photo by Ira Cohen
It has become a common source of dismay among the borough's Sikh community, who believe they are being unfairly targeted and degraded by the process.
"We have to go through this three-step dance," said Hansdeep Singh, senior staff attorney of United Sikhs. "We're put in a situation where we can't win. We understand about security, but we don't want to be treated differently."
Singh and his wife underwent a pat-down recently, when they opted out of an AIT scan in San Francisco International Airport. They nearly missed their flight.
According to the Coalition's alert, turbans fall outside the definition of clothing that fits the "natural contours" of a body.
"Your turban must first go through a pat-down (either self-administered or administered by a TSA screener) to scan for non-metallic threat items," the Coalition's alert said. "After this procedure is finished, your turban will now also be subjected to a hand-held metal detector wand search to scan for metallic threat items."
Even after the pat-down, the additional metal detector screenings can spell trouble. TSA agents test the hands of passengers after a self-pat-down, checking for explosives. The Sikh Coalition recommends all flyers wash their hands before going through security.
Tales of screenings from members of the Sikh community involve uniform complaints questioning the balance between maintaining one's dignity and national security.
Harpreet Singh Toor, former City Council candidate, underwent a pat-down in San Francisco as well, after leaving loose change in his pocket.
The ensuing metal detector beeping set off what Singh Toor claimed was a very vocal and public singling out, as TSA agents directed him to a very public pat-down. They did not offer the option of removing the change and giving the metal detector another go.
"You feel like it's the intentional, deliberate dehumanization of the person," he said.
The Sikh Coalition's alert reminds travelers they can always refuse an AIT screening, and administer their own turban pat-down. They also recommend any traveler who feels they were subject to profiling or were searched outside of standard procedure to get the officer's name and badge number, then report the incident in detail to them or the TSA directly.
Reach Reporter Joseph Orovic at firstname.lastname@example.org, or (718) 357-7400, Ext. 127.