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Juan Fernando Gómez: We've Got Some Bad News

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January 1, 2009

Traveling during the holidays is already a nightmare, but for Juan Fernando Gómez, cancelled flights are the least of his worries. You see, Gómez’s is one of more than a million names on the TSA’s watchlist—and he’s therefore subject to what he calls his “own private travel hell”—a.k.a. extra screening—every time he flies.

In an essay titled “Why Can’t I Get Off This List?” in Sunday’s Washington Post, Gómez describes the feeling on impending doom every time a flight he’s on touches down, and his familiarity with the many waiting rooms where he’s subjected to that extra screening (Miami: good; Dulles: less good). He writes:

Time and time again, I’ve been cleared for entry into the United States. So why does my name remain on the list? Will I have to go through this for the rest of my life? In desperation, I always ask airport-security officers how my name can be removed. I’ve heard it all, from writing to my congressman (as if that would do any good) to filling out a form (never mind that no one has been able to produce the document or tell me where I can find it). The most honest answer came from a young, Afghan American officer at Dulles a couple of weeks ago: “There’s absolutely nothing you can do.”

Well, that’s not totally true. Juan Fernando Gómez, all it will take is an act of Congress to have you name removed from the list. Barring that, you, like the many Robert Johnsons before you, will continue to remain in your own private travel hell for the rest of your life. (If you happen to be a Nobel prize-winner like Nelson Mandela, that act of Congress might just come through for you.)

You can learn more about the TSA’s watchlist at and sign a petition asking Congress to fix it. And take our fun—albeit horrifying—quiz to learn more absurd facts about the watchlist.

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