On Wednesday, June 21, CAIR-Chicago’s Executive Director Ahmed Rehab and intern Susan DeCostanza along with other leaders in the Chicago Muslim Community attended a tour of U.S. Customs and Border Protection operations at O’Hare International Airport last week.
The meeting was part of an effort to build relationships between the Muslim community and different government and security organizations that work in the airport in order to proactively facilitate communication, avoid cultural misunderstandings and help to educate travelers about the ways that they can possibly avoid unwanted delays at the airport.
Brian Humphrey, Director of Field Operations, commenced the meeting by introducing the various Customs and Border Protection agents present.
Dr. Hytham Rifai – a well known physician and CAIR-Chicago client – related some personal stories of delays that relatives, friends, and community members have encountered upon re-entering the United States from travel abroad.
Ahmed Rehab outlined the community’s purpose behind requesting the meeting and gave a brief synopsis of the number and nature of complaints that Muslims bring to the CAIR-Chicago office.
Sheikh Kifah gave examples of some of the problems his Mosque constituency have suffered.
Humphrey explained that U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents must move through an interactive, online cultural sensitivity course.
Humphrey reiterated that if a traveler encounters any difficulties, the agents must follow protocol, and do not have the authority to deviate from that procedure. If a traveler has questions, or believes they are being mistakenly delayed, the traveler should ask to see a supervisor.
The group walked through Customs and Borders operations beginning at the point of entry for passenger arrival to customs stations, agricultural screening, and the interview rooms. The agents described the “Passenger Lookout Override” system that was implemented two months ago, in which a passenger who has the same or a similar name as a person with a suspicious record can be distinguished from the actual suspected person.
This system is supposed to expedite common delays encountered by travelers within the Muslim and other communities who have common names that are similar to people with an actual or suspected tainted record.
CAIR-Chicago looks forward to continuing the relationship with U.S. Customs and Border Protection offices in the region, and to furthering understanding between the organizations as well as facilitating future communication in order to eliminate problems for Muslim travelers before they even arise.
For more information and tips on airport travel, visit the “Know Your Rights” section of CAIR-Chicago’s website.
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