DHS: Stop harassing airport travelers like Zainab

Woman walking through multiple metal detectors with arms raised out

Zainab Merchant, a Muslim-American writer, Harvard grad student, U.S. citizen, and mother of three young children, is subjected to humiliating searches and detention every time she flies. She doesn’t know why – because the government won't tell her.

Zainab undergoes the same cruel ordeal at U.S. airports. She waits an hour or more to obtain her boarding pass because airline employees must call a number in Washington that can clear her to fly. TSA and CBP officers conduct two duplicative searches – one at the security checkpoint and another at her gate. The officers place their hands all over her body and inspect the contents of her bags in full view of other travelers.

Zainab has done nothing that would justify these traumatizing airport security screenings, yet they have forced her to make significant personal and professional sacrifices.

Now she and her husband avoid flying as a family to spare her children from seeing their parents demeaned by U.S. government officials. Faced with the prospect of undergoing the same invasive screening protocol every time she flies, Zainab also decided to withdraw from her courses at Harvard. Not being able to know the reason for the screenings – despite repeated requests – makes her situation even more unbearable.

DHS has denied Zainab Merchant her rights, and she isn’t alone. Travelers are regularly subjected to invasive security screenings because they’re on government watchlists, which overwhelmingly impact members of Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, and South Asian communities.

All of us need to speak out now to remind DHS that airport checkpoints and inspection areas aren’t outside the law. Add your name to demand that DHS stop excessively screening Zainab Merchant and conduct a full review of its policies so that no other passengers are forced to endure such abuse.

To John Kelly, DHS Acting Inspector General:

We demand that DHS immediately stop the unlawful harassment and abuse of Zainab Merchant at U.S. airports. We demand that you review TSA and CBP practices to ensure that they adhere to applicable policy, federal law, and the U.S. Constitution – so that no passenger must endure excessive and humiliating scrutiny.