Muslim advocacy groups say an increasing number of Muslim and Arab US citizens and permanent residents who travel abroad are facing new complications in returning to the United States because of heightened security.
An attempted Christmas Day bombing on a Detroit-bound airplane caused soul-searching in government agencies after it became clear that the alleged would-be bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, was not on a watch list.
Since then, the no-fly list has swelled from 3,400 people to about 6,000, with thousands more on the list for travellers who warrant extra screening.
The lists are not made public, and most people don’t know they are on one until they arrive at the airport. In one case, an American says he has been barred from returning to the US without explanation.
Raymond Knaeble said that when he presented his US passport at the airport in Bogota, Colombia, for a flight to Miami last month, “They came back and told me, ‘You can’t fly with any airlines to the USA.’”
Khalilah Sabra, director of the immigrant justice program at the Falls Church, Virginia-based Muslim American Society, said that since Christmas the organisation has seen a 50 per cent increase in reports of extensive questioning and delays of Arabs and Muslims, to about 16 cases a month.
“Getting out (of the US) is okay. No one says anything, but when they try to come back they are not allowed in, or they are being questioned,” she said.
The Obama administration plans to replace rules instituted after the Christmas bombing attempt that stepped up airport screening of people travelling to or from 14 countries, or holding passports from those countries, to a system that focuses more on intelligence data such as red-flag travel patterns, senior officials said on Thursday.
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