In this op-ed for the Washington Post, Harvard graduate student Zainab Merchant writes about her recent travel experiences, recounting that for the last few years, she has been stopped and interrogated by the TSA every time she attempts to board a plane. In the essay she asks: “Am I being stopped because I am Muslim, or because my family once traveled to Iran to visit a holy shrine? Is it because of my criticism of U.S. policies on the multimedia website I run to raise awareness about injustices around the world?”
Here are some more snippets from her story —
— I started researching the Transportation Security Administration’s “secondary security screening selection” process to understand why I was being stopped every time I got on a plane or came back home to the United States after a foreign trip. Nearly two years later, I am still being stopped and searched, and I still don’t know why.
— I’ve tried using DHS’s “redress” process. I’ve applied to TSA’s PreCheck program and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s Global Entry program. And I’ve written to members of Congress. All my efforts have failed.
— Now I have a routine every time I travel: Arrive at the airport more than three hours early. Explain to the airline agents at the help desk that they must call Washington to clear me for travel — a process that can take an hour. Try to be patient when TSA officers escort me from the boarding area to the gate for a private security check. Allow them to rummage through my things and grit my teeth as they pat me down multiple times. Don’t bother telling them about parts of my body that are sensitive from surgery, since they’ll be rough regardless. Run to the boarding area and don’t make a scene as they pat me down again, trying not to feel embarrassed as other passengers watch. Stay as brave as possible.
— … with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, I have filed a formal complaint with the Department of Homeland Security asking that I be allowed to travel freely, which is my constitutional right.
— America is my home. It’s where I was raised, got married, had my children and built a life. Its greatest qualities of freedom, liberty and opportunity have undoubtedly shaped the person I am today. But these values are slowly diminishing, and those liberties are being taken away from us little by little.