Grounded: Life on the No Fly List

Picture this: You arrive at the airport, full of good spirits ahead of a work trip to visit to a client. You wait in line to check in for your flight, but when you reach the counter, you’re told you won’t be able to board. Suddenly you’re surrounded by security guards and hauled off for questioning, with everyone gawking at you. You learn that you’re banned from flying – INDEFINITELY – to, from, or over the United States, even though you’ve never been charged with a crime.

You’re not told why. And there’s very little you can do about it.

That is the reality of the No Fly List, a secret government watch list being challenged by the ACLU and its affiliates in Oregon, Southern California, Northern California, and New Mexico. To help illustrate the unfairness and devastating human cost exacted by the No Fly List, we enlisted the talents of award-winning comic artist Jen Sorensen.

Share the comic, and read on to learn more about what’s being done.

Learn more:

U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating Consequences

Know Your Rights: What to Do if You Think You're on a No-Fly List

Latif, et al. v. Holder, et al. - ACLU Challenge to Government No Fly List

Picture this: You arrive at the airport, full of cheer ahead of a work trip to visit to a client. You wait in line to check in for your flight, but when you reach the counter, you’re told you won’t be able to board. Suddenly you’re surrounded by security guards and hauled off for questioning, with everyone gawking at you. You learn that you’re banned from flying – INDEFINITELY – to, from, or over the United States, even though you’ve never been charged with a crime.

You’re not told why. And there’s very little you can do about it.

That is the reality of the No Fly List, a secret government watch list being challenged by the ACLU and its affiliates in Oregon, California, and New Mexico. To help illustrate the unfairness and devastating human cost exacted by the No Fly List, we enlisted the talents of award-winning comic artist Jen Sorensen.

Share the comic, and read on to learn more about what’s being done.

Grounded: Life On the No Fly List by Jen Sorensen

Transcript

You’re a U.S. citizen, a veteran, and a small business owner. You need to fly out of state to visit a client, as you’ve done many times before.

Only this time, something goes terribly wrong.

Airline agent: “I’m sorry, sir. You, uh… can’t board.”

Protagonist: “Is there a problem?”

Suddenly, you’re surrounded by security. Everyone is staring at you.

Security officer: “Come with me, sir.”

Child: “Mommy, is he a terrorist?”

You’re taken to a small room in the airport, where you are questioned by FBI agents.

FBI agent: “Tell us about your religious beliefs.”

The FBI says they’ll clear your name if you serve as an informant.

FBI agent: “Tell us who the bad guys are.”

Protagonist: “But I don’t know any bad guys!”

By now, you’ve missed your flight, but that’s only the beginning… because you’re on the No Fly List.

The client you were going to visit asks for a refund because you couldn’t make it.

You aren’t allowed to go abroad to see your ailing mother. Job offers are rescinded. Your commercial driver’s license is revoked. You miss graduations, weddings, and funerals. Years go by, and you still have no idea why this happened to you. You have never been charged with a crime.

What is the No Fly List?

In 2003, the FBI established the Terrorist Screening Center, which puts out a master watch list called the Terrorist Screening Database.

The criteria for inclusion on the TSDB are a bit murky:

“A suspected terrorist is an individual who is reasonably suspected to be, or have been, engaged in conduct constituting, in preparation for, in aid of, or related to terrorism and terrorist activities based on articulable and reasonable suspicion.”

Your high school English teacher would not approve.

So… a suspected terrorist is someone suspected of terrorism.

A subset of individuals from the TSDB are selected for the No Fly List, which gets shared widely – with the TSA, Customs and Border Patrol, and 22 other countries.

We don’t know the criteria for this list, or how many people are on it.

What are you told to do if you suspect you’re on the list?

Submit a form to DHS-TRIP – a funny acronym, considering you won’t be taking any. DHS-TRIP is the Department of Homeland Security Traveler Redress Inquiry Program.

In return, you may receive a “determination letter” that doesn’t determine much, and won’t even confirm that you’re on the list: “In response to your request, we have conducted a review of any applicable records in consultation with other federal agencies, as appropriate, and it has been determined that no changes or corrections are warranted at this time.”

Dealing with DHS-TRIP is a guessing game – guessing why the government blacklisted you, and whether you’ll ever be able to clear your name.

The only way to find out if you’ve been removed from the list is to buy a ticket and try to board a plane.

Short term parking? Long term parking? Could be either!

Is anything being done to help?

The ACLU has filed a lawsuit on behalf of 13 U.S. citizens and permanent residents who pose no security threat. Four of the plaintiffs are veterans.

The case, Latif v. Holder, argues that current policy violates the 5th Amendment right to due process. It seeks a fair way for people to clear their names.

"… nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law…"

So many someday…

Airline agent: "You’re at gate B5. Have a great flight!"

Protagonist: "I will!"

Find out more at aclu.org/no-fly-rights

Jen Sorensen's political cartoons appear in a variety of publications around the country, including The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, The Nation, Daily Kos, Medium, Alternet, and The Austin Chronicle. She is the winner of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. You can see more of her work at jensorensen.com and follow her at @JenSorensen.

Learn more:

U.S. Government Watchlisting: Unfair Process and Devastating
Know Your Rights: What to Do if You Think You're on a No-Fly List
Latif, et al. v. Holder, et al. - ACLU Challenge to Government No Fly List

Grounded: Life on the No Fly List

Jen Sorensen's political cartoons appear in a variety of publications around the country, including The Progressive, Ms. Magazine, The Nation, Daily Kos, Medium, Alternet, and The Austin Chronicle. She is the winner of the 2014 Herblock Prize and a 2013 Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award. You can see more of her work at jensorensen.com and follow her at @JenSorensen.

Sign Up for Breaking News