Sikhs Should Always Expect Airport Pat-Downs, Civil Rights Group Warns

The Sikh Coalition is warning Sikh Americans that they should always expect to undergo secondary screening at U.S....

TSA Officer (59K)
A TSA officer demonstrates what images from the Advanced Imaging Technology unit look like

The Sikh Coalition is warning Sikh Americans that they should always expect to undergo secondary screening at U.S. airports because the new Advanced Imaging Technology machines cannot see through the layers of a turban, reports Sade Lok newspaper.

The coalition, a New York-based civil rights advocacy group, has updated its guide for air travelers to reflect the new screening procedures.

Sikhs can opt out of going through the AIT machine but must then be prepared for a rigorous, full-body pat-down, including their turban.

Even after an AIT check, a turban must first go through a pat-down to scan for nonmetallic items and then be subjected to a hand-held metal detector search to scan for metallic items.

Last November, Daljeet Singh Mann, a Sikh businessman, was required to remove his turban twice within days, once at San Francisco International Airport and once at Sacramento International Airport, reports India West. He has filed a formal complaint with the Transportation Security Administration. The Sikh Coalition says officials told him that if he had problems with TSA policies, he should not travel.

“The Sikh Coalition has reported that TSA officials in airports in Oakland, Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Houston and Los Angeles pull aside Sikh passengers for enhanced screening virtually 100 percent of the time,” OneIndia reports.

The Sikh Coalition’s guide for Sikh travelers makes it clear that Sikhs have a right to pat-down their own turban. It also points out that Sikhs will not be asked to remove their turban unless a screener detects something dangerous. It suggests that Sikhs wash their hands before entering the screening area to avoid false alarms.

Many Sikhs feel the new rules are unnecessary and unfair. "Blindly singling out turbans when any other piece of clothing is as capable of hiding explosives is unsafe and un-American," said Amardeep Singh, program director and co-founder of the Sikh Coalition, in a statement.

Others are OK with the procedure if it helps security, as long as it’s done in a way that doesn’t make Sikhs feel singled out.

Several who fly frequently say it’s easier if they are prepared and have their traditional steel bracelet and “kirpan” (small dagger) in their baggage. Some choose to wear smaller turbans while traveling that are easier to take off and tie again if necessary, or even wear a cap.

Sandip Roy contributed to this report.


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