Friday, November 5th, 2010

COMMUNITY ALERT: Turbans to Always be Searched at Nation’s Airports

Sikh Organizations Coordinating Joint Action

(Washington, DC) October 22, 2010 – Earlier this month, Transportation Security Administration (TSA) officials told representatives of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF), Sikh Coalition, and UNITED SIKHS that Sikhs should now expect turbans to always be searched at American airports.

While procedures which allow Sikhs to pat down their own turbans and have their hands swabbed by a TSA screener shall remain in place, what has changed is that Sikhs must go through an additional hand wand of the turban as an additional screening procedure 100% of the time and,  according to TSA officials.  This is true regardless of whether a Sikh traveler clears a metal detector or the new Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) machines. (

SALDEF, Sikh Coalition and UNITED SIKHS oppose this policy and question its necessity.  Targeting turbans for additional scrutiny sends a message to other passengers that Sikhs and their articles of faith are to be viewed with suspicion by fellow travelers. The policy is a serious infringement on our civil rights and liberties.

What to Expect at the Airport

Air travel checkpoints in the United States employ different screening technologies.

While most checkpoints only have metal detectors, many airports may now have AIT machines. The AIT machines are new whole body imaging devices that will be installed in every airport in the United States over the coming years.

According to the TSA, regardless of whether a Sikh clears the metal detector or the new AIT machines, they will still have go through an additional procedure in which their turban will be checked for non-metallic items.  During this second screening procedure, a Sikh will have a choice of either:

1)    a pat-down of their turban by a TSA screener;
2)    patting down their own turban and having their hand swabbed for traces of chemical explosives; or
3)    requesting a private screening (in a room outside of public view) of their turban. 

In addition, after this extra screening of the turban, a third screening procedure will subject Sikhs to a metal detecting wand that will also be scanned over the turban.

Please remember, that under current procedures, a Sikh can always ask that they pat down their own turban rather than have a screener pat it down.

If a Sikh traveler opts out of the AIT screening, they will immediately be subjected to a full body pat-down by a TSA official.  If you are asked to undergo a full-body pat down, you have the right to ask for this screening to occur in a private room or other setting away from the rest of the traveling public.

The TSA’s Rationale

The TSA says that because a turban is “non form-fitting,” it is more capable of concealing dangerous items than other forms of clothing.  The TSA also says that its new AIT machines cannot see through the folds of a turban to determine if it is concealing a dangerous item.

Our organizations vigorously question these rationales.  First, the Department of Homeland Security’s own website states that the AIT machines are capable of screening threat items “concealed under layers of clothing.” Second, on Christmas Day 2009, a person was able to smuggle explosives onto a plane headed to the United States in his undergarments.  If explosives can be concealed in undergarments, all garments should be targeted for extra scrutiny, not just turbans.

Going Forward

Each one of our organizations will continue to oppose this unjust policy.  We will call upon Sikhs in the coming weeks to communicate directly with the TSA and their members of Congress.

Each one of our organizations are also aware that the Sikh American community is as invested in the national security of the United States as any other community.

Nevertheless, the TSA cannot target turbans for extra scrutiny without cause. We will continue to vigorously question the necessity of this policy given the weak rationales presented for it.

Coordination Amongst Sikh Organizations

Our three organizations would like the community and government to know that it is our intention to work hand-in-hand to combat unlawful profiling of Sikhs by the TSA.  We will jointly strategize and communicate with both the government and the Sikh community about our work on this issue.


1. Report incidents related to your travel experience to SALDEF

2. Read about recent increased security measures

3. Know your Rights as Traveler

3 Responses to “COMMUNITY ALERT: Turbans to Always be Searched at Nation’s Airports”

  1. I understand the concerns of the Sikh Community. I am a fully observing sevadar of Guru Gobind Singh Ji.
    My humble opinion is to treat the TSA agents/officers with dignity and the humble pride that every Guru ka Sardar should have. We can win with honey. I have always been treated with respect and dignity as the demeanor of a Sikh Sardar is different from that of a terrorist. Sikh’s have been the protectors of the weak and the poor. Hence the symbol of the Kirpan and Kara among others. I will sacrifice my convenience so long as I am treated with dignity and privacy than let a terrorist disguised as a sikh slip through and kill many people and bring a bad name to the Sikhs of Sahib Siri Guru Gobind Singh ji.
    I submit this humbly. We need the Government to educate the people of the world especially America who not been exposed to Sikhs and show that we are a humbly, proud group, Sikhs, many of us American Sikhs as we have adopted this country as our country of residence whether by naturalization or birth and our loyalty is to America and the humanity at large.
    A Guru’s Sikh will not engage in terrorist activities as our Guru forbid us. He taught us instead protect the weak, sick, poor, disable, disadvantaged people with our strength and values. The intentions of the administration are well meant but they are not going about it the right way. Right letter directly the White House Registered Return receipt, just one letter please and humbly request the President for acknowledgement of the communication and a promise that we are working together to preserve the dignity of all religions. We certainly do not want to fall prey to the devious activities of terrorists poised as Sikhs and hurt our causes.
    Yours sincerely,
    Gurmander Singh Kohli, MD, FACS
    Member Board of Directors of the American Red Cross

  2. Siri Atma S Khalsa says:

    Thank you for all your hard work. You will be receiving a donation soon. I think that a 100% search policy is not an attempt to make air travel safer, but an attempt to divert attention from public policies that are not in the public interest by creating a minority to blame for the current state of affairs.

  3. [...] Sikh-American Legal Defense and Education Fund (SALDEF) states that this new policy as a serious violation of civil rights: “Targeting turbans for [...]

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