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FAA Law Prevents Discrimination Against Arab Americans

posted on: Oct 23, 2018

By: Amy Hensler/Arab America Contributing Writer

After the terror attacks on the World Trade Center during 9/11, security in the United States changed dramatically in order to protect our population from events like this from ever occurring again. Security policy after 9/11 changed by increasing government surveillance and creating stricter travel rules. With the rise of increased security measures came an increase in prejudice, which intensified Islamophobia and Arabophobia, proving that these new security measures did not protect all Americans equally. They began to discriminate against Arab Americans unfairly.

The creation of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is one of the most notable results of 9/11 and is also one that has had negative effects on the Arab community. In 2016, the Aviation Consumer Protection Division received reports that stated airline discrimination based on race had increased 37 percent. TSA laws targeted Arab Americans traveling by profiling them simply because of their nationality. Stories like Raed Jarrar, who was denied passage on a JetBlue flight because he was wearing a shirt with Arabic script, started to become the new norm. This change in how Americans flew created problems for Arab Americans beyond waiting in longer than average lines at the security checks. It created a system of discrimination that had to change.

The Arab American Institute (AAI) in partnership with Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey introduced an amendment to remedy this problem. They called for complete retraining of airport employees to better equip them with the tools necessary to prevent discrimination. Up to this point, the FAA had no requirements on how to train airline staff from controlling discrimination practices against Arab and Muslim passengers. The result was the creation of the Federal Aviation Administration’s Reauthorization Act of 2018, which was signed into law on Friday, October 5th.

Included in this act was section 407, titled “Training policies regarding racial, ethnic, and religious nondiscrimination.” This act detailed that there is a problem with how air carriers have been dealing with the treatment of diverse populations looking to travel. It called for a complete assessment of each air carrier’s training policies to be reported to the Secretary of Transportation no later than 180 days after the enactment of the Act.

Along with describing the practices of individual air carriers, the section also called for a report on “how frequently an air carrier is required to train new employees and contractors.” These checks on the various traveling companies help to promote a safer and less discriminatory environment for Arab Americans. After the Secretary of Transportation looks at this report, a new guideline for the “best practices” airline carriers must complete will be distributed and enforced.

Ryan Suto from AAI’s Government Relations Department was involved directly in section 407 by working with Booker’s office on the language of the bill, along with contacting other senators to gain support for its passing. Suto and AAI view the passing of this bill as a win. He stated that “it’s defiantly a win that we can start to look at what discrimination trainings exist and create a universal best practice. But I think it is only a first step. [This bill does not] talk about policies for discrimination, and we are not talking about anything more concrete. This is a win, but it’s the first step.”

Suto remains hopeful and states that the next steps are to happen after the assessment of airline discrimination is published. “Once the report comes out in 6 months we’ll look at what this section has done and what the state of airline security is, and then we’ll certainly start working on how we can push it further to ensure that all Arab Americans regardless of ethnicity and religion can ride airlines without discrimination.” Suto states that at this point, AAI’s role is to, “become sort of a watchdog to ensure those actions are produced in accordance with the law.”

What comes out of this bill is still to be debated, however, Suto hopes that it provides an unbiased screening process based on evidence, and also to be sure that there is not an ethnocentric point of view seeping into employee trainings. “Arabic is no indication of a person’s character or motivations, and yet some airline employees are removing passengers merely for speaking a language, so whatever trainings are furthered, we would hope and expect that they do not come from some kind of ethnocentric view that places suspicion on particular languages or religions.”

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