Ethnic profiling at NY’s JFK airport

From Newsday, Aug. 24:

Muslim, Arab and South Asian passengers are being profiled by Homeland Security officers at Kennedy Airport, civil liberties groups said Wednesday, citing a New Jersey family that was detained and interrogated after a flight from Dubai last week.

The family, a mother and her 20-year-old twin daughters from Montclair, N.J., said they were plucked from the baggage area, held six hours without food or water by Customs and Border Protection agents and questioned about their views of Iraq.

Nahgam Alyaqoubi and her daughters, Arwa and Sumia Ibrahim, naturalized American citizens, said 200 other passengers of Arab, Muslim or South Asian backgrounds were detained on Aug. 15 in a roped-off area, days after the London bomb suspects were arrested.

The family joined officials from the American Civil Liberties Union and other rights groups at a news conference in the Manhattan office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations to condemn what they say has been an increase in racial profiling since the London plot was uncovered. They also criticized Rep. Peter King for what they said was profiling.

Arwa Ibrahim, who along with her sister is enrolled at Rutgers University, said they were born in Iraq and moved to the United States at age 5. She said the experience was disturbing because they were forced to sit on the floor without food or water and were treated rudely when they asked questions of the officers.

“It was a really humiliating experience — humiliating because we were treated like animals,” she said. “We were treated really horribly by the officers that were there, we were yelled at, we were told to get back, threatened with arrest and threatened to have to stay longer if we complained.”

The ACLU and other rights groups said they planned to investigate this and several other complaints of profiling.

Lucille Cirillo, a supervisory Customs Border Protection officer in New York City, said the heightened alert after the London arrests means more passengers are scrutinized. She said the Orange Alert dictates that some flights get more attention.

Neither customs nor homeland security officers engage in racial profiling, she said. “But what I will say on the matter is our officers will scrutinize more closely individuals arriving from high-risk countries,” Cirillo said.

On the complaints about lack of water, she said airlines are required to provide food and water to passengers even if they’re off the plane and in the luggage area of the airport.

Katherine Metres Abbadi, executive director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said recent comments from King were inflammatory.

“Why is Congressman King calling for a policy which has been tried and proven not to work and which has been disavowed by security experts?” she said.

King said he was speaking on the basis that the “next terrorist” will come from places like the Middle East or South Asia.

“First of all, it’s not ethnic or racial profiling,” King said Wednesday. “What I’m saying, though, is that screeners should have the right to ask additional questions of a person who belongs to a particular ethnic or religious group if members of that group have threatened the United States.”

See our last posts on fear of flying, fear of turbans, fear in New York City, institutionalized xenophobia and general Islamophobia.