Before Murad Khan ’11 flew back to campus from his native Pakistan on Saturday, he expected to face increased security following the attempted Christmas Day airline attack by a Nigerian-born terrorist. But Khan experienced nothing out of the ordinary in his travels, he said. In fact, he said he is used to anticipating security searches.
“I always make an extra effort to be clean-shaven when I’m traveling,” in order to look as “non-extremist” as possible, Khan said.
In the wake of the attempted Christmas Day bombing, seven Elis whose native countries were placed on the Transportation Security Administration’s watch list said they did not notice substantial changes when traveling back to Yale after winter vacation. Regardless of intensified security measures, these students say they often feel anxiety when flying back to school. After years of international travel, some foreign students have developed, by necessity, means of adapting to what they perceive as more thorough checks in airports, more than a half-dozen students interviewed said.
On Jan. 3, the TSA rolled out a new policy requiring enhanced screenings for people from selected countries, about a week after Nigerian Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, 23, attempted to blow up a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. The new policy stipulates that residents of nations that are “state sponsors of terrorism,” as well as those considered “countries of interest,” will undergo “enhanced screening,” according to a statement from the TSA.
Four nations — Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria — have been deemed state sponsors of terrorism, and 10 nations — Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen — are considered countries of interest. In addition to travelers holding passports from these 14 nations, people traveling from or through the nations are subjected to the same security measures, the statement says.
Twenty current Yale undergraduates are citizens of the 14 countries, and 15 of these students are Pakistani citizens, according to a fall 2009 report from the Office of International Students and Scholars. The seven interviewed said they did not notice exceptional hassles during their return trips to the United States after break, largely because they said they have always faced heightened security compared to travelers from Western countries.
Shehzeen Kamil ’13, who is a dual citizen of Pakistan and the United States, said she was nervous about intense questioning upon returning to the U.S. after her trip to Pakistan over winter break. But she encountered little difficulty, she said, adding that as a female traveling alone, she often faces less scrutiny than men from Pakistan do. Still, as a Pakistani, she said she has come to expect close scrutiny when traveling.
“The bomber was not a Pakistani,” she said, referring to Abdulmutallab. “[But] I’m used to this.”
Fellow Pakistani Abeer Gularzar ’12 said she has always been subjected to body pat-downs at airports when traveling from the airport in Pakistan. But her return to the U.S. this year was no more intense than usual, she said.
As she returned to campus from vacation, Angela Omiyi ’10, a Nigerian who spent her break in the United Kingdom, said she also noticed few changes in airport security. She did, however, object to the new TSA policy that is applied universally to citizens of her home country.
“I think it’s an unfair judgment,” Omiyi said. “It doesn’t seem like there’s an actual security reason behind this but more that they’re trying to send a message.”
Other Yalies from the 14 nations expressed similar qualms with the new policy — not because of the resulting inconvenience but because of the perceptions of their nation on the international stage.
A resident of Amman, Jordan, Saned Raouf ’10 said he worried about traveling back to Yale because, as an Arab male between 18 and 28 years of age, he fits the stereotypical profile of a terrorist. Upon returning the to the U.S. after break, he said he was asked “unusual” questions — about what he studies at Yale, for example — at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
“This is racial profiling,” Raouf said of the predominantly Arab 14-country list.
But Stuart Gottleib, director of policy studies at the MacMillan Center for International and Area Studies and a lecturer in the Political Science Department, said the purpose of the additional airport screening “is not to offend or racially profile.” Rather, he said the new screening measurers are meant to serve as a deterrent, keeping potential terrorists out of international transportation hubs that could allow them entry into the U.S.
Such measures, however, can only be so effective by targeting large groups, Gottleib said.
“It’s understandable that the U.S. government would take this action. However, cracking down on certain regions and certain countries can only have a limited effect on terrorism,” he said. “It’s far more important to target and isolate suspect individuals rather than the populations of entire regions.”
“People shouldn’t take this personally,” he added.
Still, Goksu Bicer ’12, a citizen of Turkey, which is not on the watch list, said he has become accustomed to intensified screening measures. Whenever he travels back to college, he dons his Yale sweatshirt and shaves his face.
“I wish I didn’t have to do that and could be confident walking into an airport,” he said. “Those are just the facts of life.”