DETROIT — A federal agency has released a report, after a 2020 request from U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-Michigan), on how the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) can eliminate the potential for discrimination in travel screenings.
The report comes out of years of requests by Arab Americans and Muslim Americans to their elected officials to resolve persistent and discriminatory enhanced screening practices at ports of entry.
The Government Accountability Office (GAO)’s report says that while the TSA has taken steps to address this issue, the agency must improve the collection and tracking of data on incidents of potential discrimination during secondary travel screenings at airports, as well as improve information about how to file complaints.
The tracking will help inform training, procedures and other efforts to prevent these intrusive and often unnecessary secondary screening processes, the report says. It also found that the TSA must implement a better system to track, monitor and address complaints of discrimination from travelers.
It found that the TSA’s advanced imaging technology or other practices can result in certain passengers being referred for additional screening more frequently than others.
“These include transgender passengers or those who wear religious headwear or have disabilities,” the report says.
Peters is the chairman of the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. Since taking office, he’s often seen organizing and leading meetings between the local Arab and Muslim American community and federal officials in charge of how borders are policed.
Recently, the senator hosted Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas in Metro Detroit to meet with members of Michigan’s Arab and Muslim American populations to discuss travel screening and other civil rights issues. Following that meeting, Customs and Border Protection established a new position to serve as a community relations liaison between the agency and Michigan’s Arab and Muslim American communities.
“Communities in Michigan – including our Arab and Muslim American communities – continue to face lengthy and intrusive screening when traveling,” Peters said. “This report shows that while TSA is making progress, they must step up their efforts to prevent potential discriminatory screening practices that can affect families, businesses and even people’s ability to enjoy their family vacations.
“The recommendations provided by this report will help me continue to hold TSA accountable and support their efforts to secure our transportation system while upholding the civil rights and liberties of all travelers.”
But the local community knows there’s more to be done. For example, facts remain murky as they pertain to the so-called “terror watchlist” operated by the FBI and DHS and shared with several agencies. The community is yet to see an actual process for how one can challenge the list if their name appears on it, or even receive a reason for why they were put on it in the first place.
Last year, U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Dearborn) said in a letter to the FBI and DHS that the watchlist causes due process problems and significant hardship for those wrongfully added to them, and that the errors subject innocent, “law-abiding Americans to unnecessary scrutiny and distress.”