Back to News & Commentary

Latinos and Muslims Shouldn't Be Afraid to Travel This 4th of July

Ramona Ripston,
ACLU of Southern California
Share This Page
July 2, 2010

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

This Fourth of July — as Americans head for our nation’s highways and airports, to connect with families for barbeques and fireworks — I’m going to have a hard time focusing on the fun. I’m distracted by thoughts about some U.S. residents who are terrified of traveling.

They’re scared because some parts of the federal government, and some state governments, seem determined to make it a crime for minorities to travel in this country. The possibility of being denied access to an airplane seat — or being arrested while driving across state boundaries — is far too real this year. So real that, in some places in the country, some minorities are caught in a government-enforced travel limbo.

At the Long Beach, California, airport, a 28 year-old married student, Halime Sat, tried to board a plane to Oakland. She was denied access. Ms. Sat, a resident of Corona, California, has suddenly been put on the government’s no-fly list. She has no criminal record nor affiliation with any outlawed organization anywhere in the world. The only crime committed by this young German citizen, who is married to an American: Flying while Muslim.

Ms. Sat is one of a ten plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed this week by the American Civil Liberties Union, alleging that thousands of people have been added to the no-fly list and barred from commercial travel, without any opportunity to learn about or refute the basis for their inclusion on the list. Plaintiffs in the case include a disabled U.S. Marine Corps veteran stranded in Egypt and a U.S. Army veteran stuck in Colombia.

Ms. Sat was only trying to fly from one place to another in the state where she is a permanent resident. Denying people such fundamental rights in complete secrecy and without due process is unconstitutional and un-American. They become pariahs, deemed unworthy to fly — but no one says why.

While Muslim residents like Ms. Sat are being kept off our nation’s airlines, Latinos in the Southwest are worried about what might happen to them on the Arizona highways. The ACLU of Southern California is so concerned about what the Arizona police might do this heavy-travel weekend that we — along with other ACLU affiliates around the country — have issued a “travel alert” to educate Latinos (but not just Latinos) about the dangers of driving to Arizona.

The ACLU is distributing a cardboard “pocket guide” in Spanish and English, explaining what to do if people are stopped by the police in Arizona. I should say, our guide is for Latinos and those who look as if they might be Latino — because Arizona’s new law gives police broad powers. They are required to investigate the immigration status of every person they come across whom they have “reasonable suspicion” to believe is in the country unlawfully. To avoid arrest, citizens and immigrants will effectively have to carry their “papers” at all times. The law also makes it a state crime for immigrants to willfully fail to register with the Department of Homeland Security and carry registration documents. It further curtails the free speech rights of day laborers and encourages unchecked information sharing between government agencies.

These powers are so broad, they’ve created a new Arizona-specific crime: Driving while Latino.

At the ACLU, we have created a nationwide campaign around it: What Happens in Arizona Stops in Arizona. There’s more information about it on our website.

The United States has always served as a welcoming beacon to immigrant groups. I hope our nation hasn’t decided that some immigrant groups are more equal than others — or more deserving of those civil liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights.

Freedoms — and how hard we have fought to earn them — this is what I’ll be thinking about when I watch the ‘bombs bursting in air’ at my family’s Fourth of July celebration.

Learn More About the Issues on This Page