Know Your Rights

Warmup reading for our upcoming interview with a civil rights lawyer

ACLU-Know-your-rights
Image courtesy of The ACLU

In advance of this week’s Small Stones interview with a civil rights attorney (coming soon!), we’ve been thinking about how much we, personally, know about our individual rights. For sure, we’re quite privileged ourselves—white, highly-educated, and relatively wealthy—allowing us to mostly assume we’ll be treated legally and fairly. But, we’re both women, one of us is a religious minority, and the other has been pregnant, so we we’ve felt some fear, too.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has lots of handy “Know your rights” guides: if you have an encounter with the police, if you experience voter intimidation, if you’re a religious minority, an immigrant, pregnant, work in a nail salon, and so forth. Below, we excerpt their summary of rights if you’re a Muslim (or perceived as Muslim) and experiencing discrimination at the airport. You can read the full text here.

Your Rights at the Airport and the Border

The Constitution and federal law prohibit customs and border agents from performing stops, searches, detentions, or removals based solely on religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.

You have the right to:

Be free from discriminatory questioning at the airport or border. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) officers have the authority to ask your immigration status when you are entering or returning to the United States or leaving the country. They have the power to determine whether non-U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents have the right to enter the country. If you are a U.S. citizen and you have presented a valid passport, you do not have to answer officers’ questions, although refusing to answer routine questions about the nature and purpose of your travel could result in delay and/or further inspection. If you are a lawful permanent resident, we recommend you answer officers’ questions… Officers, however, may not select you for questioning based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs…

Be free from discriminatory stops and searches at the airport or border. Generally, CBP officers may stop, detain, and search any person or item at the border, including laptops or cell phones. This is true even if there is nothing suspicious about you or your luggage. Officers, however, may not select you for a personal search or secondary inspection based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.Officers have sometimes asked travelers to provide their laptop passwords or unlock their mobile phones. Whether you have a right to decline to provide this information is a contested legal issue. The extent to which officers have the authority to search or copy files in your electronic devices without any reasonable suspicion that the devices contain evidence of wrongdoing is also a contested issue…

Wear your religious head covering. You should assert your right to wear your religious head covering if asked to remove it before going through airport security screening. If an alarm goes off, however, airport security officers may request additional screening. They may then conduct a pat-down of your religious head covering or ask you to remove it. You have the right to request that the pat-down or removal be conducted by a person of your gender and that it occurs in a private area… If the TSA officer insists on the removal of your religious head covering, you have a right to ask that it be done in a private area. Officers may not conduct additional screening based solely on your race, national origin, religion, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.

Be free from discriminatory questioning or removal by airline employees. An airline pilot may refuse to fly a passenger if he or she reasonably believes, based on observation, that the passenger is a threat to flight safety. A pilot may not, however, question you or refuse to allow you on a flight because of biased stereotypes, including any based on your religion, race, national origin, gender, ethnicity, or political beliefs.

Return to the United States after traveling abroad if you are a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident. If you are a U.S. citizen or green-card holder denied boarding in a foreign country due to apparent inclusion on the No Fly List or other watchlist, the U.S. government must help you secure approval to return to the United States on a commercial flight…

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