Sikh advocacy groups in the US have demanded stop to the screening
of turbans at airports, arguing the additional search of their
religious headwears is not required as the travellers pass through
the full-body scanners.
Sikh organisations 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 the Congress
and the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) to overturn
what they said was an "unjust policy", the New York Times
Officials from the Sikh Coalition, United Sikhs and the Sikh
American Legal Defense and Education Fund said Friday they met
with representatives of the Department of Homeland Security and
the TSA several weeks ago.
"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.
Hansdeep Singh, a senior staff lawyer for New York-based United
Sikhs, said the meeting in Washington was arranged to hear about
how new "advanced imaging technology" scanners would affect Sikhs.
They 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," Singh was quoted as saying.
But the community representatives said they were told that the
turbans will be treated "as a per se anomaly", Singh said.
They said TSA officials declined to tell them whether the scanner
is incapable of seeing through a turban, which typically has
layers of fabric.
The advocacy groups met with officer for civil rights and civil
liberties Margo Schlanger at the Department of Homeland Security,
and special counselor to the TSA administrator Kimberly Walton,
the New York Times said.
"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. "In our faith, it's the
equivalent to being forced to be naked, effectively."
When called for screening, Sikhs have the option of having their
turbans patted down by a TSA officer or patting down their own
turbans, after which their hands are inspected to trace chemicals.
They are also screened with a hand-held metal detector.
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 of bomb used by Umar Farouk
Abdulmutallab, a Nigerian accused of trying to blow up a plane
over Detroit last Christmas.
More than 300 body scanners have been installed at 65 airports in
the US, according to the TSA Web site. An additional 450 scanners
are set to be installed by next year.
TSA spokeswoman Sterling Payne said: "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."
"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," she said.
With the new body scanners, 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".