Know Your Rights When Traveling

CAIR Oklahoma urges all members of the community who will be traveling to consider the following guidelines & keep them in mind when on your trip. If you are unsure about these guidelines, or your specific circumstances, please contact our office, fill out an online complaint form, or consult with an attorney. As Oklahoma Muslims, we must know our rights when it comes to travel to and from Oklahoma and work together to protect our civil liberties.

As a traveler, you are entitled to courteous, respectful, and nonstigmatizing treatment by airline & security personnel when traveling by air. It is illegal for law enforcement officials to perform any stops, searches, detentions, or removals based solely on your race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, or gender.

What are my civil rights and what is discrimination?

Civil Rights are your rights to be treated the same as everyone else. Discrimination is treating one person unfairly Our Civil Rights as Americans are embedded in the Constitution and Bill of Rights. The Constitution is a written set of laws that makes the U.S. government run. The Bill of Rights established basic standards of treatment by governmental entities. For examples, the 1st Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides you with freedom of speech, gives you the ability to voice your opinions, and prevents government from regulating the content of speech unless in certain circumstances in which hate speech or fighting words may be regulated. The 4th Amendment of the Bill of Rights provides you with the right to be free from unreasonable search & seizure. This amendment prevents the government from intruding upon your person, home business or property without a valid search warrant, a valid arrest warrant, or a belief rising to the level of probable cause. There also exist federal and state laws that protect our civil rights as Americans, as well as court decisions. Contact us if you have any questions related to your rights as an American citizen or resident of the United States.

Traveling by Air: Who Are Those People at the Airport?

There are generally two types of security personnel you will encounter in an airport:

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) conducts safety-related searches for weapons and explosives. These are the individuals that check you at security points both internationally and domestically. From the website of the TSA: Following September 11, 2001, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was created to strengthen the security of the nation’s transportation systems and ensure the freedom of movement for people and commerce. Today, TSA secures the nation’s airports and screens all commercial airline passengers and baggage. TSA uses a risk-based strategy and works closely with transportation, law enforcement and intelligence communities to set the standard for excellence in transportation security.

Customs and Border Protection (CBP) secures the homeland by preventing the illegal entry of people and goods while facilitating legitimate travel and trade. These are the individuals at the borders when entering another country. From the website of the CBP: CBP is one of the Department of Homeland Security’s largest and most complex components, with a priority mission of keeping terrorists and their weapons out of the U.S. It also has a responsibility for securing the border and facilitating lawful international trade and travel while enforcing hundreds of U.S. laws and regulations, including immigration and drug laws.

The Airport Security Screening Process: What You Should Know

Primary screenings consist of a metal detector, including an x-ray of your luggage and shoes and body scanner or pat down.

Keep the following in mind with regards to Primary Screenings Customs and Border Patrol (CBP):

  • You have the right to opt out of going through a body scanner, BUT if you do….
  • …TSA will require an enhanced pat-down done by a same-sex officer. You can also request a private room.

Airport Security CANNOT:

  • Ask you personal questions without some probable cause (i.e. They can not question you about  your personal life-where you spend time, work, worship, etc.
  • Target you for more screening or questions based on racial or ethnic profiling
  • Handcuff OR strip search you

If you are stopped by law enforcement when in an airport, either arriving or departing, law enforcement agents CAN detain you briefly if they feel you are a security risk or that you are doing some specific illegal activity.

Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) officers CAN question you about:

  • Your citizenship
  • The nature of your trip
  • Anything you are bringing back to the United States that you did not have with you when you left
  • They can examine your baggage
  • They can confiscate your electronic items with reasonable suspicion based upon a court ruling from March 2013
    • If your electronic items are confiscated, CBP must have you fill out an inventory form to log the intake & give you a receipt
  • They can ask about how much money is being brought into the country (if it is over 10 thousand dollars it needs to be reported to the CBP)

Assert Your Rights & Be Polite:

  • Ask why you are being subject to questions about your personal life/beliefs
  • Ask to speak to a supervisor
  • Document any that you speak to
  • If you feel you were discriminated against, make complaints to the relevant agencies.
  • Contact CAIR Oklahoma for assistance

Always get the name, agency, badge number, and contact phone number (business card is ideal) for any TSA or CBP agents that you interact with if concerned about a possible violation of you rights.

What if… Examples of Real Life Scenarios

In Security

You and your family are in line waiting to go through security. When you get to the front, they ask you to go through the body scanner. When you decline, they have you move to the side and you are made to wait for 30 minutes for an agent to come over. The agent is very rude and proceeds to do the enhanced pat-down without asking you if you’d like to go to a private room for screening. They then search your bag and pull out your Quran and begin to ask you questions about it.

What should you do?

  • Document anyone who stops, arrests or searches you.
  • You do not have to answer personal questions not related to travel.
  • You have the right to be searched in a private room by a same-sex officer.
  • If you feel you were discriminated against, make complaints to the relevant agencies.
  • Call CAIR Oklahoma.

Back From Hajj

While traveling back from Hajj, you were stopped by CBP. Your luggage was searched extensively. Your electronics were taken. And you were asked questions about where you live, where you worship, who you know in Saudi Arabia, and what other countries you have visited in the past.

What should you do?

  • Document anyone who stops, arrests or searches you.
  • You do not have to answer personal questions not related to travel.
  • Obtain an inventory sheet saying exactly what was taken, by whom, and when you will get them back.
  • If you feel you were discriminated against, make complaints to the relevant agencies.
  • Call CAIR Oklahoma.

The “No Fly” List

When you arrive to the airport to board your plane to Egypt, the ticket agent informs you that you are on the ‘no fly’ list and cannot board the plane.

What should you do?

  • Call CAIR Oklahoma.

What if this happens when you are in Egypt on your way back home?

  • Call CAIR Oklahoma IMMEDIATELY.

If you have questions about your rights when traveling, contact CAIR Oklahoma. If you would like to report an incident of possible rights violations while traveling, fill out our incident report form here.