January 11 2010
29th Poh (Samvat 541 Nanakshahi)
Press Release

Sikhs Face Increased Harassment at Borders Amidst New Screening Rules at Airports

Washington DC, USA: Sikhs are facing unwarranted attention at airports while traveling, with an increase of reports of harassment at border entry points and during airport screening.   According to new screening procedures announced by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) standards, all passengers traveling to the United States originating or passing through fourteen countries, including Pakistan, will be subject to heightened security screening, including full-body pat-downs and luggage searches. Additionally, UNITED SIKHS has received more reports of Sikhs, American citizens, who have been subjected to detainment and questioning, when traveling domestically or entering from Canada and European countries. We are filing complaints on behalf of these individuals with government agencies as they occur; please submit your complaint by clicking here.

While many Sikh travelers already face “discretionary” screening of their turbans, as “bulky clothing,” 100% of the time at certain airports, the new screening standards inclusion of Pakistan as a country that mandates additional screening puts all Sikhs who have visited Pakistan under special scrutiny. Certain Sikhs have complained of being unlawfully placed on watchlists, for no apparent reason, and also have complained that they are detained on multiple occasions for two to four hours upon entry into the USA, despite being American Citizens, and being cleared for entry every time. The new screening standards create an entirely new problem of profiling on the basis of country of origin, instead of using behavior or better intelligence sharing as a method to promote security, to the benefit of all Americans, such as those suggested here.

Pakistan was the birthplace of Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism. With half of Sikh historical Gurdwaras (places of worship) located in Pakistan, many American Sikhs and Sikhs from throughout the world travel to Pakistan for religious purposes. Additionally, due to the current humanitarian crisis in Pakistan, many organizations are working in the South Asian country to provide humanitarian relief to the civilian families suffering due to the ongoing war on terrorism. The current practices of the Border Security and TSA officials have shown that Sikhs who have visited Pakistan are now being subjected to additional scrutiny. This creates a problem for Sikhs who want to visit Pakistan for religious reasons, and also discourages volunteers, Sikh and non-Sikh, from lending a helping hand to civilians in Pakistan who have lost their homes and means of livelihood due to the war.

Commenting on the situation, Jaspreet Singh, UNITED SIKHS Staff Attorney stated, “UNITED SIKHS is highly concerned about the safety of fellow Americans and supports the Government's efforts to make this country and the world a peaceful place to live.  However, people are continuously singled out based on country of origin, race, and religion, rather than behavior or better intelligence sharing. Furthermore, we've seen little ability to effectively redress civil rights complaints resulting from these ineffective policies.”

UNITED SIKHS has joined hands with other South Asian and Sikh organizations to to prevent profiling of any sort during screening measures. To read a copy of the letter, please click here.

To read a previous press release from UNITED SIKHS on this issue, please visit: http://unitedsikhs.org/PressReleases/PRSRLS-27-12-2009-00.html

Issued By:
Kuldip Singh

Were you detained at the border, or asked questions regarding your religion  while traveling? Report your experience by clicking here.

Did you face problems at the airport while having your turban screened? Click here to report your incident.

View the joint letter submitted by Sikh organizations on the new screening standards by clicking here.

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