A new Homeland Security Department policy singles out Sikh men for rigorous airport security searches at the discretion of screeners, a national civil rights organization says.

The United Sikh Coalition has written to Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff to protest the policy, implemented Aug. 4, which it says amounts to racial profiling. Nearly 2,000 have signed petitions.

Previously, travelers wearing turbans were searched only if they failed to clear metal detectors or other preliminary checks. The new rules, implemented Aug. 4, allow pat-downs of religious headgear at the screener’s discretion.

For the world’s 25 million Sikhs, the turban is an article of faith, only to be removed in the home or in private.

“In the last three weeks, we’ve heard dozens of complaints, people being asked to remove their turbans in public and denied the use of a mirror or space to re-tie them, said Kavneet Singh, East Bay resident and director of the Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund. “For a Sikh man, that’s like being strip-searched.”

J.P. Singh, president of the Sikh Center of the San Francisco Bay Area in El Sobrante, teaches Department of Justice and local law enforcement agencies about Sikh practices.

“It’s like asking a woman to take off her blouse in public,” he said. “It’s that bad.”

At San Francisco International Airport on Aug. 12, screeners ordered aside three Sikh men. One of them was Kuldip Singh, managing director of United Sikhs.

“The metal detector did not go off,” he said. “I asked the guy why they were asking me to step aside. He said they have a new no-hat policy, and we have to pat down your turban.” (MORE)


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