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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

U.S. Senators Weigh in on TSA Turban Screening Policy

Working with Sikh Coalition, Senators Respond to Sikh Constituent Concerns

At the urging of the Sikh Coalition and their Sikh constituents, four Senators today sent a joint letter to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), demanding an explanation for the TSA’s new turban screening procedure. The letter urges the TSA to work with the Sikh-American community to address its concerns about a troubling new policy that allows America’s 43,000 TSA screeners to pull aside turban-wearing travelers for secondary screenings.

The letter, addressed to TSA Administrator Kip Hawley, was initiated by Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL), and signed by Senator Barack Obama (D-IL), Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI), and Senator Jeff Bingaman (D-NM). This is the third Congressional letter sent to the TSA in the last two weeks that expresses apprehension about the TSA turban screening issue by our elected officials. Various members of the House of Representatives sent two such letters last week.

Citing the potential for religious profiling in today’s letter, the Senators wrote “We are concerned that this policy change could lead to disparate treatment of Sikh travelers, among others. Under the new policy it seems that travelers are being singled out for secondary screening solely on the basis of physical manifestations of their religious beliefs.”

Today’s Senate letter is a direct outcome of the Sikh Coalition’s campaign encouraging Sikhs across the country to contact their Senators. Nearly 3000 Sikh Americans emailed their Senators through the Sikh Coalition’s website, and countless others made phone calls and asked for in-person meetings.

"We are concerned that this policy change could lead to disparate treatment of Sikh travelers, among others," the Senators wrote to the TSA. "Based on the limited information available and the recent experiences of several Sikh travelers, it appears that they are being singled out for secondary screenings soley on the basis of physical manifestations of their religious beliefs."

In the coming week, Senate committee staff will also ask the TSA for a security briefing on the new policy. Senators are curious about why the TSA would implement a policy targeting headwear, when dangerous non-metallic explosives could be hidden elsewhere on a traveler’s body.

The Sikh Coalition would like to thank Senator Durbin and his colleagues for their strong leadership on this issue. Congratulations also to members of the Sikh American community who called their senators in response to our request. You have made your voice heard! [Sikh Coalition Press Release]

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